he us$ 1.25 billion MGM Grand is a joint venture between Las Vegas casino operator MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho, former socialite and the daughter of Macau’s former casino kingpin, Stanley Ho. It is jockeying for high rollers with dozens of casinos already stationed in Macau, the only place in China where gambling is legal and which last year raked in more gaming revenue than the Las Vegas Strip.
Dozens of guests began arriving for a black-tie opening ceremony Tuesday evening, sweeping up the grand driveway in black chauffeured limousines. The public would get their first glimpse inside the mirror and steel building just before 11 p.m.
The high-profile guest list included Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, top Macau government officials, as well as local celebrities and tycoons, including Stanley Ho, a spokeswoman said.
Stanley Ho ran the casino business in Macau for 40 years until 2001 - two years after the Portuguese colony returned to Chinese rule - when the government broke up his monopoly and handed out gaming concessions to foreign interests.
American Sheldon Adelson was the first to enter the territory, opening the Sands Macau in 2004, and then this August the us$ 2.4 billion Venetian, a Las Vegas style mega casino-resort complete with Italian gondolas punting down indoor canals.
Pansy Ho said the 600-room MGM Grand will target the wealthiest gamblers, called "VIP customers" in the business, who are interested in high-end shopping and entertainment as well as gambling.
The hotel will link to a luxury apartment block and a shopping center still under development. Phase two of the hotel complex will include space for a convention center, theater and circus, the spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, citing policy said.
Ho has dismissed concerns that the casino was squeezing into a corner of Macau’s main island that was already packed with luxury gambling resorts, including some run by her family.
"These few casinos will actually work in conjunction to present a really formidable proposition to all VIP customers that this should be the center of the high-rolling gaming experience," she said in Macau last week during a preview tour of the hotel.
The 35-story MGM Grand boasts a huge atrium with a glass ceiling that’s 20 foot high and is modeled on the central train station in Lisbon, a nod to the territory’s Portuguese heritage. Abstract hand-blown glass sculptures by US artist Dale Chihuly are scattered around the plush marble lobby, while a life-sized Salvador Dali statue of a girl skipping rope sits on the lawn outside.
The hotel also offers 400 gambling tables, 800 slot machines and 16 private gaming rooms, comparable to its closest rivals, American tycoon Steve Wynn’s casino and the Crown Macau.
Both the us$ 1.1 billion Wynn and the Crown Macau, a joint venture between Australia’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd. and Hong Kong-based Melco International Development Ltd., run by Pansy’s brother, Lawrence Ho, have positioned themselves as high-end casinos.
The Grand is MGM’s first entry into Asia. While the jury is still out on whether Asian gamblers respond to the same type of non-casino entertainment as those in Las Vegas, it was expected to be a successful launch, said Jonathan Galaviz, a partner at Globalysis Ltd., a Las Vegas-based consultancy.
"MGM Mirage has an excellent Asian consumer base that patronizes their integrated resorts in Las Vegas, their new Macau property should benefit from these pre-existing customer relationships," he said. However, analysts warned that Macau was reaching "opening fatigue."
"We’re not seeing the big jump in gaming revenues with every new opening that we saw with the early casinos," Rob Hart, an analyst with Hong Kong-based Morgan Stanley said.
However, with 100 million people just next door in China’s wealthiest region of Guangdong, and with average salaries of 1 billion people in mainland China on the increase, Hart said there was still huge growth potential for Macau’s gaming industry.