October 14, 2009 / 1:16 AM / 9 years ago

Wynn: Macau may slow development of gambling

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Macau, the only city in China where gambling is legal, may be moving to slow development in the fast-growing casino center, according to gambling mogul Steve Wynn.

A general view shows casinos in Macau September 22, 2009. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The southern Chinese city’s government met Monday with representatives of the six companies that operate its casinos, including Wynn Resorts Ltd (WYNN.O).

“I’ve got a feeling that the government’s going to tamp it (Cotai) down,” Wynn, the company’s founder and chief executive, said in an interview with Reuters. He was referring to the Cotai Strip, a swathe of land some Macau developers have touted as the next Las Vegas Strip.

“If they limit the amount of (gaming) tables there is no reason to build any more,” he said.

Wynn said Chinese officials appear to be chiefly concerned with the disruption that overbuilding could potentially inflict on workers in Macau. “The government wants to keep everybody calm while they provide jobs and industrialize the country,” he said.

According to a statement posted on the city’s official website, the former Portuguese enclave is considering rules, to be drafted in two to three months, that would impose limits on table numbers and raise the age for gambling to 21 from 18.

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“We are very much in favor of it,” said Wynn, whose company currently operates one luxury casino hotel in Macau and will open a second, called Encore Macau, on April 1.

Wynn said his representative at the meeting suggested that the number of table games for each operator be capped at 1,500, while others proffered a number as low as 1,000. Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS.N), which operates two Macau properties, already has more than 1,000 table games.

Sands, like Wynn, has longer-term plans to expand development on the Cotai Strip.

Wynn suggested that the government may have become alarmed at the impact of the recent financial collapse on Macau workers, many of whom were laid off.

    “If you allow people to spread games without any control then what happens is they get overzealous — as you’ve seen here in Las Vegas — ... they hire people and fire them,” he said.

    Wynn said Macau officials at Monday’s meeting also asked the operators to return workers to a 48-hour work week, up from the 40-hour week four of them, but not Wynn, have implemented.

    Macau has boomed in recent years, surpassing the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s most lucrative gambling market, but the recent recession, as well as a government clampdown on travel from mainland China, led to a slowdown. Visa restrictions were recently relaxed for residents of neighboring Guangdong province.

    Wynn took advantage of the consequent surge in positive investor sentiment last week when it sold 25 percent of its Macau operations in an initial public offering of Wynn Macau Ltd (1128.HK) in Hong Kong that raised nearly $1.9 billion.

    The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday that Las Vegas Sands, which is seeking to raise up to $2.5 billion from a listing of its Macau assets, could launch its initial public offering by late November.

    In addition to Sands and Wynn, Macau’s casino operators include home-grown players Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd (0027.HK) and SJM Holdings Ltd (0880.HK). The other two are Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd MPEL.O MPEL.O — a joint venture between Melco International Development Ltd (0200.HK) and Australia’s Crown Ltd (CWN.AX) — and a casino jointly operated by Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage (MGM.N) and local businesswoman/tycoon Pansy Ho.

    Wynn said Macau appears to have no plans to issue additional gaming concessions.

    Macau rocketed onto the global gambling stage following reforms that put an end to a long-time monopoly held by Stanley Ho. The Chinese territory generated HK$105.6 billion ($13.5 billion) of gross gaming revenue in 2008, more than double the HK$46.7 billion generated by the Las Vegas Strip during the same period.

    Reporting by Deena Beasley; editing by Steve Orlofsky and Carol Bishopric

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