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Old April 15th, 2009, 11:00 AM   #21
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New Macau casino bets on mainland, HK

15 April 2009
South China Morning Post

The newest casino hotel resort on Macau's Cotai Strip expects to rely, at least initially, on the mainland for about half its visitors, with another quarter coming from Hong Kong,

"I think you'd expect a large proportion from the PRC and Hong Kong," City of Dreams president Greg Hawkins said. "The core visitation segments, realistically across all operators in Macau, are similar. Mainland China, particularly southern China, and Hong Kong are the primary inbound segments."

The casino-hotel development is the only project opening on the Cotai Strip this year.

With established long-haul markets the United States and the European Union hit hard by the global downturn, and with international travel in a slump, mainland and Hong Kong visitors are picking up much of the slack in Macau. In February just over half its 1.65 million visitors came from the mainland and nearly a third from Hong Kong, official figures show.

"We're conscious that they are the general inbound markets. At the same time, secondary markets, like Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan and Taiwan, to some extent, are important as well. They are much smaller markets but they generally tend to be multi-stay markets," Mr Hawkins said.

The heavy reliance on mainland and Hong Kong visitors will be reflected in the prices City of Dreams will charge. The first phase will open in June. It involves 620 rooms split between the Hard Rock Hotel and the more luxury-oriented Crown Towers, a casino, shops, restaurants and a dome-shaped theatre.

The five-star Grand Hyatt hotel will open in September or October and add another 600 rooms.

Mr Hawkins said: "Business plans and key strategies need to be adaptable to existing conditions. So we've very much looked at what's happening in the markets, making sure our strategies are appropriate for the current market."

Diversifying Macau's sources of visitors and extending their length of stay are key to the Cotai Strip's aim of becoming a tourism destination. Currently, The Venetian - the mammoth casino-hotel developed by Las Vegas Sands - is anchoring the strip. Other projects are on hold because of the financial crisis.

Mr Hawkins said the master plan for Cotai is at least four to five years from being fleshed out.

"I think it's when, from a consumer point of view, it's clear you have no reason to leave Cotai [that the strip will have arrived]. To me, that's about how diverse the experiences are across all of the properties - in a gaming, hotel, food and beverage, retail and entertainment sense {hellip} I would have thought it's when at least another two or three properties are completed."

The company behind City of Dreams is Melco Crown Entertainment, a co-chairman of which is Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, the son of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun.
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Old April 16th, 2009, 11:26 AM   #22
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Lukewarm interest for Sands shopping malls
14 April 2009
South China Morning Post

Interest among prospective buyers of two mega shopping centres attached to Las Vegas Sands Corp's Macau casinos appears lukewarm, given the company's aggressive pricing and challenging market conditions, sources said.

Several funds and large real estate investors have been approached by Goldman Sachs, which is managing the sale of the themed Cotai retail arcades attached to the Venetian and Four Seasons casino resorts.

Sources said Sands was asking would-be buyers to shoulder lower returns and bet big on bullish projections despite the down market and uncertainties in Macau.

The firm's targeted proceeds from the auction-style sale remain unclear, but the sources indicated rental income and yield percentages that would suggest an asking price of about US$1 billion. The company declined to comment.

Bids were due in to Goldman this week, the sources said.

Sands chairman and majority owner Sheldon Adelson announced last month that about 19 parties were potentially interested in the shopping centres. At 1.21 million square feet, they are about 1.5 times the size of the shopping area at IFC One and Two in Hong Kong.

"Maybe there will be someone who sees long-term potential, but there's no financing market now, so my guess is they don't get close to their number," said one source who passed up the deal. "They need the money badly but the auction will be a real crap shoot."

Sands has in recent months sought to cut costs and raise new funds from asset sales to avoid further risk of defaulting on portions of its US$10.5 billion in long-term debt.

In November last year, the company raised US$2.14 billion in a share sale to avoid tripping loan covenants on its Las Vegas financing, which could have resulted in banks calling in loans.

Selling the Cotai shopping centres has always been a part of the company's overall Macau strategy, but the timing of the auction process appears less than ideal.

Macau's tourism and retail outlook has been clouded by regional recessions and Beijing's 10-month-old restrictions on mainlanders travelling to the city. At the same time, many potential bidders are themselves strapped to raising funds for large-scale acquisitions.

The assets on the block include the 1.01 million square foot Grand Canal Shoppes on the upper floors of the Venetian, which opened in August 2007.

Also to be included in the sale is the 211,000 sqft luxury shopping centre attached to the Four Seasons, which opened in August last year.
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Old April 29th, 2009, 01:35 PM   #23
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Jumeirah chief targets expansion in China
27 April 2009
Hong Kong Standard

Jumeirah Group, the Dubai-based luxury hotel and resort operator, is in the final stages of negotiations about managing hotels in Beijing, Sanya and Hangzhou, executive chairman Gerald Lawless told The Standard.

It hopes to sign agreements to manage hotels in the three mainland cities over the next quarter and the hotels could open in three to four years, Lawless said.

Jumeirah, which runs the iconic sail- shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, is also planning more hotels in China with an eye for first-tier cities and resorts, Lawless said.

The company would be interested in managing resort hotels near the Great Wall or in the so-called Shangri-la area of Yunnan province.

It is also discussing the introduction of its luxury apartment brand, Jumeirah Living, to three mainland cities as part of mixed-use developments. ``We will have more in China,'' Lawless said.

Jumeirah is part of Dubai Holding, a conglomerate controlled by the Gulf emirate's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Jumeirah is already set to operate a luxury hotel and apartments on Macau's Cotai Strip as part of a Shun Tak (0242) project set to be completed in 2012.

The hotel operator plans to have more than 60 hotels in operation or under development by 2012, with 35 to 40 percent of those in East Asia, said Lawless.

``We see it as a great growth area ... a natural expansion area for Jumeirah out of the Middle East,'' he said.

Jumeirah is looking to add hotels in ``letterhead locations'' across the globe, including the Seychelles and Mauritius, as it seeks to compete with the likes of Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, Lawless said.

The hotel operator has already signed a management agreement with Guangzhou-based GT Land Holdings for a 200-room hotel in the city, as part of a project in Pearl River New City, Tianhe District, set to open in 2011.

The company will also operate hotels under development in Phuket, Bali and the Maldives.

Meanwhile, Lawless said Jumeirah is finding new opportunities amid the financial crisis in conversions of existing hotels. Some owners of unbranded hotels want to sign up with an international brand that has a central infrastructure already in place, he said.

``This is a great opportunity for an up-and-coming luxury brand like Jumeirah,'' Lawless said. Jumeirah has the advantage as a new brand, as exclusion agreements can prevent its competitors from managing more than one hotel in the same city.

To counter the effects of the economic downturn on its Dubai hotels, Jumeirah has been working with Emirates Airline and the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to promote the city as more affordable than it was.

After the crisis broke out, advance bookings showed occupancy rates at Jumeirah's Dubai beach hotels were going to plunge to the mid-50s or low 60s for February and March. But with discounts reducing average room rates by up to 22 percent, occupancy rates had returned to their normal level of 90 percent by February.

Occupancy rates at Jumeirah's business hotels in Dubai have risen again to about 70 percent, but are still down from the normal 85 to 88 percent.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 09:39 AM   #24
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All In Neil Gough takes an eye-in-the-sky view of the casino trade
1 May 2009
South China Morning Post

Surprise, surprise - the house is winning again. After spending most of last year in bearish hibernation, shares in Macau casino operators are back on a bull run.

SJM Holdings, Melco International Development and Galaxy Entertainment Group have risen 35-75 per cent so far this year. That compares with an anaemic 7.8 per cent rise in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

The rally is partly driven by fundamentals. Casino revenues in Macau reversed three quarters of sequential declines to rise 8 per cent in the first quarter, according to official data released last month.

But the rebound also appears to have drawn a line under investors' sentiment towards the sector - which had all but collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis, Beijing's restrictions on mainlanders travelling to Macau, and a credit crunch among the VIP junket agents who bring high rollers to the city.

From a financing perspective, the good news couldn't have come soon enough. Casino companies have in effect been cut off from raising new funds for at least half a year. Equity deals in gaming have been frozen since Las Vegas Sands' painfully dilutive US$2.1 billion sale of new shares in November.

But the recovery in casino revenues and the rally in share prices appear to have initiated a thaw in the markets, allowing funds to flow again.

Wynn Resorts was first to test the waters. The company attempted to raise funds last month by selling 7 million new shares at the bargain price of US$19 apiece. Demand was strong and the size of the deal was increased by 37 per cent to 9.6 million shares, grossing Wynn US$209.76 million.

Next to tap the market was Melco Crown Entertainment. The Nasdaq-listed joint venture between Lawrence Ho Yau-lung's Melco International Development and Australian James Packer's Crown grossed US$165 million this week from the sale of new shares.

That deal was also priced low, at US$4 a share, and no doubt it was helped along after majority shareholders (Melco International and Crown) agreed to take up half of the offering.

Never mind that neither company really needed the money, not now at least: both already had decent cash cushions and had fully funded any construction projects in the pipeline. More likely, the deals were made as insurance measures to pay down debt and bolster balance sheets.

Still, the message is clear: the markets have successfully been prised open for business.

That's not to say all is back to normal. The syndicated loan market, which had bankrolled nearly all of Macau's glitzy new casino projects, is still in paralysis.

But the market for corporate bonds is showing signs of life. For example, Galaxy's Singapore-traded debt has bounced back from a November trough, and has risen to almost 90 US cents on the dollar from lows of about 40 cents (see second chart).

Of course, that rebound is partly because Galaxy has been taking advantage of the discount to buy back its own debt, including a purchase in early April of US$50 million worth of its US$240 million in convertible bonds due in 2011.

But Las Vegas Sands has not been buying back debt, and trading in its US$250 million bond due in 2015 has also seen a revival - despite that company's continued balance-sheet issues.

So, while casino companies appear once again able to raise money, so far their only option appears to be tapping the stock market.

Indeed, more companies are likely to take money shots while the shooting is good. Shareholders had better brace themselves for it.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 10:00 AM   #25
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氹仔新盤入伙 帶動交投 澳門二手住宅租金趨平穩
30 April 2009
星島日報

澳門租賃市場首季表現起伏,首季初期整體租金跌三成,至首季末回升,整體倒升一成至一成五,有代理預料,第二季租金可望平穩,預料上升百分之五至十。其中氹仔區因有新盤入伙,區內樓市被看好。

中原(澳門)董事總經理郭朝隆表示,澳門租金水平於首季初期錄得明顯跌幅,相比去年中,跌幅約兩成五至三成,但近期已回穩,並回升約一成至一成半,料第二季租賃市場將繼續表現穩定,並可望錄約百分之五至十的上升。

平均呎租較去年中升10%

他指出,首季入伙的幾個新盤租金跌幅較明顯,主因是租盤增加,令租金受壓,他舉例說,氹仔濠庭都會第三期於首季入伙,當時屋苑租金跌至每月六千至六千五百元,近期已回升至七千至八千元;太子花城亦於首季入伙,當時每月租金約六千至七千元,現時回升至七千五百至九千元水平。

郭氏指,除了因樓市回暖令租金回升,近期當地亦多了一批新購買力,如新濠天地年中開幕,以及一批打算入澳的交換生等,均帶動當地租賃市場,料氹仔區第二季表現會較澳門半島更佳。

美聯(澳門)行政總裁張一輝亦表示,澳門的租賃市場,去年受外資撤出影響,出現下跌,近期已經回穩。他舉例,以澳門半島東方明珠區的寰宇天下,早前租金最低曾見約六千元,近期已上升至七千至七千五百元。

太子花城低層月租7000元

氹仔區方面,美聯(澳門)營業經理梁國文表示,該行上月錄約四十宗租賃成交,本月亦相若,租賃交投持續活躍,他指出,當中逾半成交來自剛入伙的濠庭都會和太子花城。而即將進駐新濠天地的員工,開始於當地物色租盤,如太子花城二座低層H室,由一名來自香港的租客承租,據悉,他是新濠天地的員工,單位月租約七千元。

利嘉閣(澳門)區域董事余浩銘表示,現時租賃交投未算活躍,但租金水平相對穩定,如遠洋嘉園中層C室,面積約二千二百零四方呎,以每月一萬六千元獲承租,呎租七點三元。他預期,澳門租賃市場於第二季表現穩定。
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 10:49 AM   #26
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澳門官員表示新填海區不發展博彩業
21 April 2009
中國新聞社

中新社澳門四月二十一日電

澳門特區政府運輸工務司司長劉仕堯今日表示,澳門未來填海后所得新城區土地不發展博彩業和別墅項目。

劉仕堯今日下午出席立法會口頭質詢會議時表示,特區政府的新城填海計劃方案經聽取國家相關部委意見后,對原規劃作出適當微調。微調后用海面積由原來約五百公頃調整為約四百公頃,將新增用地面積約三百五十公頃。五個新填土區域分別在澳門半島東北、新口岸孫逸仙大馬路以南及凼仔以北。

他表示,政府在新土地的開發利用上,決定不發展博彩業和不開發低密度住宅項目(如別墅),而新城區填海所得土地約六成以上規劃為道路、廣場、綠化空間和公用設施等非地產項目。另外將預留適量土地發展配合澳門產業適度多元化政策,同時也將預留適量公共房屋建設用地。政府將透過大量增加綠化、休憩及公共服務設施,美化澳凼兩岸海濱的城市景觀,為提升居民綜合生活質素提供必要的空間。

他強調,新城填海計劃現階段為初步總體規劃,在中央政府支持下,現已進入報批階段。待方案獲中央批準后,特區政府將就新城規劃設計方案向社會推介和咨詢。
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Old May 7th, 2009, 07:13 PM   #27
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Melco Crown Entertainment To Open Macau Casino-Resort Jun 1
7 May 2009

HONG KONG (Dow Jones)--Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. (MPEL) said Thursday its City of Dreams casino-resort in Macau will open June 1, though parts of the project are still awaiting regulator approval.

The Macau casino operator had said previously it would open the property in stages beginning in June.

The opening phase will contain two hotels of about 300 rooms each, plus a casino with 520 gaming tables and 1,350 gaming machines, Melco said in statement. The final phase, including a luxury apartment hotel of about 800 units, is on hold awaiting legal and regulatory approvals.

Melco is pressing ahead with its plans at a time when competitors, including Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd., have delayed projects in Macau due to an industry slump.

Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. is a joint venture between Hong Kong-listed Melco International Ltd. (0200.HK) and Australia's Crown Ltd. (CWN.AU).
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Old May 8th, 2009, 01:20 PM   #28
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Macao's City of Dreams bets on attracting high rollers
28 April 2009
Financial Times

The $2.1bn casino is a statement from the powerful Ho family, writes Justine Lau

On Cotai Strip, a reclaimed area in Macao billed as Asia's answer to Las Vegas, workers are busy putting the finishing touches on City of Dreams, the newest casino in the former Portuguese colony.

With a dome-shaped theatre, a Hard Rock-themed casino, stylish nightclubs and Harley Davidson motorcycles in the jackpot, Melco Crown Entertainment (MPEL) is betting that the $2.1bn project will be able to defy a slowing market in Macao and a deepening global recession when it opens its doors in June.

In 2008, gaming revenue in Macao grew by 31 per cent to $13.5bn but there was a sharp slowdown in September after Beijing imposed visa restrictions that curtailed visitors to casinos from some parts of mainland China. High-rollers, meanwhile, also found it more difficult to tap credit as the global financial crisis worsened.

For Lawrence Ho, son of "king of gambling" Stanley Ho and MPEL's chief executive, the success of City of Dreams is not only crucial for his company but also the empire of the Ho clan, the most powerful family in Macao.

When Macao ended Stanley Ho's 40-year gaming monopoly in 2002 and granted licences to international tycoons, including Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands and Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts, some called it the end of an era.

Analysts predicted Sociedade de Jogos de Macao (SJM), Stanley Ho's gaming flagship, would lose its leading position as early as this year as bigger casinos and shinier gaming floors built by US rivals were expected to outdo his smoky gambling dens.

In 2004, when Mr Adelson opened Sands Macao, the first casino operated by a foreign investor, doors were smashed and fences broken as gamblers forced their way in.

The opening of Wynn Macao in 2006 and Venetian in 2007 continued to captivate the crowds and put more pressure on Stanley Ho.

But five years on, SJM is still the biggest casino operator in Macao, the world's largest gaming market.

Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage, SJM's heavilyleveraged foreign rivals, have recently been preoccupied with refinancing loans taken out during the boom times.

Las Vegas Sands has stopped construction of its partially-finished developments on Cotai, where most building work by other casino operators has also been halted.

Cranes now loom over idle building sites.

The company, which has been struggling to offload its real estate and retail properties at the Venetian, has also declined to comment on speculation that it would sell Sands Macao, saying only that it would continue to explore all options.

Analysts have speculated that cash-strapped MGM Mirage, which has a Macao joint venture with Pansy Ho, Stanley Ho's daughter, could be forced to sell its 50 per cent stake in the tie-up, most likely to its partner.

"By maintaining its leadership for so long, SJM has proved a lot of people wrong," says Billy Ng, analyst at JPMorgan, who expects Stanley Ho to maintain a lead until at least next year.

With Lawrence Ho and Pansy Ho, the Ho family has three of Macao's six gaming licences and control about half of the sector, which has grown about five times since 2002.

"Their market share may be smaller but don't forget the pie is much bigger now," says Gabriel Chan, an analyst at Credit Suisse.

Adding to this is Shun Tak, Stanley Ho's conglomerate, which has been benefiting from the territory's breakneck growth in the last few years thanks to its vast interests in Macao's property, transportation and hospitality industries.

All these give the Ho family an upper hand again.

City of Dreams is set to put MPEL, a partnership between Lawrence Ho and James Packer's Crown group, in the best position to benefit from any turnround in Macao's gaming sector.

The property is likely to be the only large-scale casino opening in the enclave in the next two to three years.

It is estimated to double MPEL's market share to about 17 per cent in 2010.

Although casino revenue in the first quarter of 2009 dropped 13 per cent from the same period last year, it was 8 per cent higher than the level in 2008's fourth quarter and in line with the third-quarter figure. This is in spite of the fact that the beginning of the year is traditionally a low season.

According to Morgan Stanley, gaming revenue in Macao is expected to decline 11 per cent in the first half of 2009 but is likely to rebound by 4 per cent in the second half of the year.

"The worst is likely to be over as long as there are no more big corporate problems," says Francis Lui, deputy chairman of Galaxy Entertainment, a Macao casino operator. "This year I am cautiously optimistic."
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Old May 10th, 2009, 07:26 AM   #29
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By 風繼續吹 from skyscrapers.cn :



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Old May 10th, 2009, 07:32 AM   #30
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It is unusual to have a building standing this tall behind the Penha hill.
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Over 20 hotels under construction with more than 60,000 rooms, Shopping Centers, Entertainment Facilities and Casinos.
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Old May 22nd, 2009, 10:08 PM   #31
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Macau seeks public input on 5km harbour rail link
22 May 2009
South China Morning Post

Macau is consulting the public on construction of a 5km rail link through the city's Inner Harbour area, which would be an extension of a planned 20km elevated rail line.

The government's Transport Infrastructure Office yesterday met social groups to explain some options for building the "phase two" link of Macau's light rail system.

Options of an underground line, an elevated line and an undersea coastline tunnel are being considered for this phase.

An underground line would cost 5-5.5 billion patacas, an elevated line 3.5-4 billion patacas and an undersea tunnel 6-6.5 billion patacas, according to government estimates.

The 5km line will run along the western side of the peninsula to form a loop with phase one, linking the Border Gate checkpoint, Ilha Verde, Ponte 16 and the A-Ma Temple.

Preparatory work has started on the first phase, the 20km line that will run along the eastern and southern fringes of the Macau peninsula and onto Taipa Island via a bridge, linking casinos with the Border Gate checkpoint, the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal and the airport. The government estimates the first phase will cost about 4 billion patacas.

Michael Lam Soi-hoi, consultant for the office, said project management had recently started for phase one. This phase was planned to ease traffic congestion, which rose amid the casino boom. But work has been repeatedly delayed. The first-phase plan was finalised in 2007 after rounds of consultations, and was scheduled to start last year and be completed in 2011.

The second-phase line will run through Macau's lower-income areas, in response to criticism that the first phase favours casinos and bypasses poor areas.

Mr Lam said the government had not set a construction timetable for construction of phase two. He said it might choose one of the three options or combine them after further studies. Residents are invited to send their views about phase two to the government before July 9.

Sin Chi-young, a community leader and deputy head of the government's consultation agency on Taipa and Coloane islands, said construction of phase two should start as soon as possible to ease traffic jams.

"Phase one has started and we hope phase two will quickly get off the ground," Mr Sin, vice-director of the General Union of Neighbourhood Associations, said. "There are too many vehicles and too little land in Macau," he said.

Mr Sin also said the tunnel option was preferred for part of the Inner Harbour area that directly faced the sea, while the elevated line was preferred for Fai Chi Kei and Ilha Verde.

Government experts said an elevated line would be the easiest to build and cost the least, but might affect views and the environment. An undersea tunnel would be less functional than elevated or underground lines, but it would minimise the impact on city views. It would also be the most complicated to build.
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 01:27 PM   #32
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Las Vegas Sands ready to restart Macau projects
26 May 2009
Agence France Presse

Las Vegas Sands chief Sheldon Adelson has said he may have arranged financing necessary to restart stalled construction projects in Macau and the United States by the end of 2009.

The company, facing a credit crunch and a stock price in freefall, halted the building of two resorts in Macau in November as well as a condominium project in Las Vegas and parts of a site in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The Macau stoppage resulted in the loss of around 11,000 construction jobs in the former Portuguese colony, a Special Administrative Region in southern China neighboring Hong Kong that is now a casino hub.

However gaming tycoon Adelson said he was now confident that all of the Sands' stalled projects could resume.

"I just came back from Macau and we have five or six different options that we can pursue, each one of which would solve our liquidity problems," Adelson told AFP.

"The best of the options out there would provide us with sufficient liquidity that we will restart all of our projects by the end of the year.

"We will finish Bethlehem, we will finish Lots five and six (in Macau), and I don't know if I want to finish the condos in Vegas yet just because of the market."

LVS has charted an ambitious 12-billion-dollar building plan on an area of reclaimed land in Macau known as the Cotai Strip that, upon build-out, is slated to include 11 resorts with a collective 20,000 hotel rooms.

The Venetian Macao and Four Seasons Macau are open; Lots 5 and 6, which include Shangri-La and Sheraton-branded hotels, are under construction.

The company also owns the Sands Macao, a casino-hotel on Macau's peninsula area where casinos have been clustered and where LVS' American rivals Wynn Resorts and MGM Mirage have opened properties in recent years.

The only US gaming corporation building on Cotai is LVS, although Wynn owns property in the region.

Adelson did not disclose details of the possible financing arrangement, but gaming industry analyst Bill Lerner speculated it could involve selling existing assets or equity in the new projects.

"It suggests that there's a financial and/or construction partner that would take equity in sites 5 and 6," said Lerner, a former Deutsche Bank analyst now with his own firm, Union Gaming Group.

"They will either sell the Sands Macao or some of the retail areas at the Four Seasons and Venetian Macao."

LVS stock has plummeted from a high of 148 dollars in October 2007 to a low of less than two dollars earlier this year, hovering above nine dollars on Tuesday.

Adelson, 75, was the third wealthiest American according to Forbes Magazine as recently as 2008 but fell to No. 178 this year as his personal wealth tumbled from 28 billion dollars in 2008 to 3.4 billion dollars this year.
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Old June 4th, 2009, 10:50 AM   #33
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Las Vegas Sands to Tap ‘Improving’ Capital Markets
By Chia-Peck Wong and Frank Longid

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Las Vegas Sands Corp., controlled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, plans to raise funds to restart its $12 billion casino-resort project in Macau after the freeze in credit markets eased.

“There are obviously improving conditions in the capital and financial markets and we intend to take advantage of that as well as we can,” Las Vegas Sands’ Asia President Stephen Weaver said in an interview in Macau today. “I’m spending a lot of time talking to the capital markets and financiers.”

The casino operator last year stopped work on its 20,000-room complex of hotels and casinos on Macau’s Cotai Strip amid the seizing up of the credit markets, dwindling revenue and the risk of defaulting on some loans. Adelson has said he’s considering a bond sale and is looking at a “private or public” minority investment in the company’s Macau properties.

“Floating the company makes sense to me,” Gabriel Chan, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Credit Suisse Group, said in an interview in Macau today, citing Las Vegas Sands’ share-price gains this year. “It’s very difficult for them to sell assets like malls because whoever buys has no control over the casino.”

Potential Investors

Las Vegas Sands dropped 6 percent to $9.78 in U.S. trading, the most in three weeks, trimming its gain this year to 65 percent. The company lost 94 percent of its market value in 2008.

Since the start of this year, MGM Mirage has dropped 46 percent, Wynn Resorts Ltd. has declined 6.5 percent and Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. is up 75 percent.

Adelson on March 10 said he’s in talks with four groups of potential investors in Las Vegas Sands’ operating Macau properties, the Sands, Venetian and Four Seasons. About 19 parties have indicated interest in two shopping malls the company is selling in Macau, he has said.

“Selling of assets doesn’t include selling of casinos,” Weaver said today.

Equity markets have recovered this year, with 90 of 92 global stock benchmarks tracked by Bloomberg gaining in the past month. In the 12 preceding months, only Venezuela’s main share index advanced. Debt markets have also been active, with international bond sales of $2.1 trillion this year, a first-half record according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

‘Interested Parties’

Since halting its Macau project, Las Vegas Sands has raised capital and cut worker hours and jobs to trim more than $470 million in costs.

The casino operator’s target is for the Cotai project to resume construction this year, Weaver said.

“At the moment we have a number of options, a number of interested parties,” Weaver said at the Global Gaming Expo Asia conference in the former Portuguese enclave. “We’re not going to commit. We are continuing to investigate the alternatives.”

Las Vegas Sands hasn’t “formally appointed any bank,” Weaver added. “We’re close to a number of them. It’s not a leap of faith to think we will appoint Goldman Sachs. It will be a number of banks.”

Unfinished Complex

Adelson has also said he’s met with two construction companies that may invest in the stalled Macau project to get the buildings finished.

Part of the unfinished complex is next door to the $2.1 billion City of Dreams, whose opening night Weaver attended.

“It’s fabulous, I am impressed,” Weaver said of the new rival casino. The venture “should do well.”

Success for the Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. casino should benefit all operators, he said.

“The more critical mass there is, it’s very clear that the more people are attracted to the Cotai Strip.”

Macau’s gambling revenue and visitor arrivals have fallen since January 2008 amid the global recession. Curbs on visits by mainland Chinese to the city, the only part of China where casinos are legal, aggravated the slowdown.

Macau’s casino gambling revenue was 26 billion patacas ($3.3 billion) in the first quarter. While that’s 13 percent lower than a year earlier, it’s 8 percent higher than the previous three-month period.
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Old June 6th, 2009, 10:44 AM   #34
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Nightmare averted
6 June 2009
The Economist

A new casino heralds a return to health for the world’s biggest gambling centre

IN WHAT only a few months ago would have seemed like an act of despair but now passes for revelry, James Packer and Lawrence Ho each grasped a guitar by the neck and smashed it into a pedestal. With the ritual, they formally unveiled their joint project, a new Hard Rock hotel and casino as well as various adjoining properties that are collectively known as the City of Dreams, the latest of Macau’s many new developments. The opening on June 1st, attended by vast crowds, is the result of five years of planning and, at least as important, a willingness in recent months to press on when many believed Macau’s prospects had collapsed.

In March, Mr Ho himself expressed fears that the end was nigh not only for the City of Dreams, but also for other new casinos in Macau. That would have marked the end of an extraordinary boom that began in 2004 when the Las Vegas Sands Corporation broke a gambling monopoly held for decades by Mr Ho’s father, Stanley. It first built a casino called Sands, and then, in 2007, the larger Venetian. In 2006, a second Las Vegas operator, Wynn Resorts, also opened a ritzy development in Macau. The tiny Chinese territory quickly became their largest source of income and the biggest casino market in the world.

Growth began to taper off last June, and by the end of the year revenues were contracting. The troubled global economy was one factor; so was a decision by China to restrict visits by citizens from the mainland. The stockmarket took note. By February this year, investors were valuing firms with casinos in Macau at less than the book value of their assets, implying that they would be more valuable if liquidated than as going concerns (see chart). The collapse was particularly calamitous for Las Vegas Sands, which had financed its developments with a bit of equity and lots of debt, producing staggering wealth on paper at first and then widespread concerns over bankruptcy.

Responding to the change, numerous projects in Macau were put on hold, including four huge hotel-casinos being built by Las Vegas Sands next door to the City of Dreams. Messrs Ho and Packer may have persevered only because they were in too deep to turn back. The gambling licence alone for the City of Dreams project cost a record $900m, more than 40% of the $2.1 billion cost of the development.

Panic began to ebb in March as the contraction in revenues eased, as did concerns over bankruptcy. The price of the shares of Las Vegas Sands jumped sevenfold, and those of its rivals rose strongly too. Along with economic optimism, there is growing confidence that China’s restrictions can be circumvented—by the rich through second passports and by the masses through package-tour operators.

At any rate, eager hordes queued for hours in the humid Macau heat for the opening of the City of Dreams. Despite the crowds at the new casino, the tables were still busy across the street at the Venetian and across town at the older Mr Ho’s Grand Lisboa and at the MGM Mirage, in which his daughter Pansy owns a stake. Just how large the potential market for gambling might be in Macau no one knows, but the consensus view is, bigger. On June 3rd, Las Vegas Sands announced it was raising money to restart its unfinished projects.

Nonetheless, future developments may be different. The gaming tables may be busy again, but the flashy new venues have not been wholly successful. In the casinos of Las Vegas, only 26% of revenues come from gambling, the rest from ancillary activity including shows, dining and shopping, says Gabriel Chan, an analyst at Credit Suisse. But in Macau non-gambling revenues are trivial. As the casino firms have discovered to their delight, this is a place where making money comes first.
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Old June 6th, 2009, 11:58 AM   #35
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Gaming giants join to win big
4 June 2009
Hong Kong Standard

Relations between rival gaming operators in Macau have thawed in the recession, paving the way for cooperation to confront regional challenges.

Although the sector is not seen recovering for a few years, the world's biggest gaming center by revenue faces competition from US$9 billion (HK$70.2 billion) gambling projects in Singapore and other countries now preparing to enter the market.

Lloyd Nathan, the MGM Mirage president for global gaming development, said casinos in Vietnam could be ready by 2012, while Taiwan and Japan want large-scale gambling.

``A lack of understanding of different business practices of US and local operators has caused friction, with the American model seen as unfair competition from 2004 to 2006,'' said Ricardo Siu Chi-sen, coordinator of the University of Macao's gaming management program.

Competition in a downturn could mean huge losses, he added, but cooperation could help business when gambler growth was less than expected.

Stanley Ho, handed the Visionary Award at the Global Gaming Expo organized by the American Gaming Association, said casino operators, the government, the economy and society could benefit from cooperation.

But US ideas might not work in Macau, he said. ``The success of one market model may not migrate to another because of different geographical, historical and socio-cultural characteristics.''

Ho, who lost a gambling monopoly in 2002 _ five concessions and sub-concessions went to other operators _ continues to generate increased revenues despite his market share falling to 30 percent, according to the founder of Macau Business magazine, Paulo Azevedo.

AGA chief executive and president Frank Fahrenkopf said Ho had already set the ball rolling with the setting up of a Macau gaming operators' association.

``The time is ripe to start cooperating on issues from the standardization of junket commissions to creating a common framework to deal with responsible gaming,'' he said. Singapore was set to capture the resort and convention markets, he said, but competition could help Macau.
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Old June 6th, 2009, 05:44 PM   #36
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Gamble on a dream
7 June 2009
Sunday Times (Perth)

CHINA'S eastern jewel, the city of Macau, has never struggled to turn over a quid.

Annual takings from the city's casinos are greater than the combined revenue from Las Vegas and Atlantic City, attributed almost entirely to the Chinese ``whales'' -- slang for punters who feast on Macau's promise of big wins.

An Australian is involved in a group that has just added variety to Macau, focusing on hotels and entertainment to attract holidaymakers. He's no regular Australian though -- it's James Packer, son of a renowned ``whale'', the late Kerry Packer.

Stories of Packer Sr's lavish gambling benders were legendary and now Packer Jr is hoping to equal the legend. But rather than working the tables, Packer Jr is aiming to make his name by working the casino's business.

Melco Crown Entertainment, a joint venture between Packer and Macau gaming heir Lawrence Ho, son of the city's original tycoon, Stanley, have launched City of Dreams at its Hard Rock Hotel.

The $2.99 billion complex has more than 500 casino tables and 1500 gaming machines, restaurants, shops, hotels and an entertainment venue.

It has been built on reclaimed swamp land and is the first step towards the dream of making the new Cotai Strip emulate the glamour of Las Vegas.

Despite fears about the health of the world economy, City of Dreams' grand opening was spectacularly lavish, marked by a huge fireworks display as the background to queues of hundreds of punters trying for luck on the new tables.

Mr Ho, co-chairman and chief of Melvo Crown Entertainment, says the goal with City of Dreams, his flagship development in Macau, is to set a new standard of gaming and entertainment in Asia.

``I believe that we will achieve this goal,'' he said.

``City of Dreams is a `must experience', next-generation resort like no other in Asia, or perhaps the world, comprising distinctly branded casino floors, three separate world-class hotels, a unique shopping precinct, The Boulevard, which wraps around the casino floors and links the three hotel towers, and an awe-inspiring, fully immersible multimedia show housed in the unique theatre, The Bubble.

``With more quality attractions . . . and more diverse entertainment, I think gone are the days where our visitors are purely here for gambling.''

The development is expected to create close to 7000 new jobs for Macau.

The rest of the gaming development world is waiting to see how City of Dreams will work before committing. But early reviews are Mr Packer and partners have got it right.
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Old June 9th, 2009, 05:17 PM   #37
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DEALWATCH: Las Vegas Sands Macau Plans Back On Table
8 June 2009

HONG KONG (Dow Jones)--Improving sentiment and the June 1 opening of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd.'s (MPEL) flashy new Macau casino resort has resurrected Las Vegas Sands Corp.'s (LVS) efforts to complete its development plans for the Cotai Strip gaming area in Asia's gaming capital by tapping the markets for new funds.

Sands is reportedly considering numerous financing options to resume construction of its Cotai developments sometime this year. It should press ahead with selling equity in its Macau ventures, be it via a flotation or private sale.

Capital markets have certainly recovered since March's nadir. Leveraged, high beta names like Sands have rallied more than others on the rebound, and its stock has spiked just over sevenfold since March to close at $10.01 Friday.

Theoretically, that makes fresh capital raising - new debt, partial asset sales or listing of assets - a lot easier to execute than its $1.5 billion equity recapitalization in November.

But Sands has two problems. Firstly, it wants to raise capital to complete at least phase-1 development of a huge hotel and casino complex on sites 5 & 6 of the Cotai Strip. This would require around $1.4 billion, according to filings. Secondly, and not unrelated, it must delever its balance sheet.

Although short-term liquidity has improved following November's recap - the company's quick ratio stood at 2.1x at March-end versus September's 0.9x - neither interest coverage nor leverage at the gaming giant are in sterling shape. March coverage, for example, was 0.5x.

Other headaches are imminent tightening of debt load covenants at its U.S. and Macanese loan facilities - to 6.5x adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization from 7x from September in the U.S. and similarly to 3.5x from 4x for the Macau facilities.

Even with better sentiment, it's a tough sell to get markets bankrolling a firm that, according to its filings, is 'highly leveraged'.

Spinning off the Macau shopping malls and apartment portfolio has been mooted. But the real gems in the crown are its casino assets, so it's hard to see why buyers would be prepared to pay top dollar for these sideshows.

Sands should press ahead with selling equity in its Macau ventures via an IPO or private sale. Macau already accounts for the lion's share of earnings power. It contributed 65% of Sands' Ebitda before rent last quarter.

Equity raised would also allow it to delever both its Macau and U.S. balance sheets, then relever the Macau division with debt funding to complete at least the semifinished phase-1 site with new money.

Equity Value

The key though is how much equity is in Macau?

Total Macau level-debt is about $3.4 billion. Sands' operating casinos are worth around $4.5 billion and its ferry line around $350 million, suggesting a book value of around $1.5 billion for the business.

Applying a 2.3x multiple to the casino assets would suggest around $2.65 billion in value. The unprofitable ferry line should be worth around book value, suggesting a total $3 billion for the functioning Macau businesses - just under around half of Sands' total market worth.

The unfinished Cotai sites are recorded at $1.7 billion.

Assume the 790 tables and 3,500 slot machines at the new casino generate a very conservative $1.95 billion in revenue annually, with a 15% Ebitda margin that results in about $290 million annually. Given other operators easily trade at 9 times enterprise value to Ebitda that suggests a $2.6 billion value for the casino alone.

Realistically, though the sites unless completed have limited value. But if Sands earmarked new funds to paying down debt and restarting development it could be a draw for investors looking for equity access to new Cotai properties. Bankers and management could plausibly argue the unfinished sites are worth book value, pushing Macau's equity value to around $4.7 billion.

Selling off just under half of the Macau assets at, say, $2.5 billion would allow the Adelson family to keep their close hold on their casino empire as well as finish off at least part of their vision for the Cotai Strip.

In the meantime, Sands management will probably be watching across the road at Melco's new City of Dreams complex. Competition may have heated up in Macau since Sands first opened up in 2004 breaking a local gaming monopoly but it should hope Melco's own gamble pays off. For City of Dream's success is likely to be the barometer by which new investors judge how keen they are to ply fresh capital into indebted Las Vegas Sands.
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Old June 11th, 2009, 08:01 AM   #38
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澳門《舊區重整法律制度》配套行政法規爭取年內 完成起草工作
2 June 2009
新華社中文新聞

澳門《舊區重整法律制度》配套行政法規爭取年內完成起草工作

新華社澳門6月2日電(記者劉衛國)澳門特區政府土地工務運輸局局長賈利安2日表示,澳門《舊區重整法律制度》草案已進入立法程序,特區政府跨部門工作小組正起草配套行政法規,爭取在今年內完成起草工作。

賈利安在回復立法會議員有關舊區重整書面質詢時表示,特區政府對舊區重整的方針有兩方面,一是抓緊法律草案及其配套行政法規的起草、討論、諮詢工作;二是通過整建修復、街道美化等措施整治舊區,提升居民的生活環境及營商環境。

他表示,行政長官2007年批示設立“土地發展諮詢小組”,從城市規劃、歷史建築文物保護以及環境保護等方面進行研究併發表意見。

賈利安表示,為強化土地發展的諮詢制度,特區政府去年年底開始推行“土地批給公開旁聽會”,以便讓更多不同界別的人士參與意見,增加土地批給信息的透明度。(完)
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Old June 14th, 2009, 07:44 PM   #39
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限量推售約40伙 以高層為主 氹仔皇族下半年現樓登場
11 June 2009
星島日報

偉興旗下氹仔區皇族,發展商計畫下半年重推餘貨,涉及四十餘伙,集中高層單位,由於物業接近入伙期,重推時將以現樓形式推售,包括複式及少量頂層單位。

仲量聯行(澳門)住宅部主管黃智威表示,由該行代理的氹仔區皇族,發展商偉興正部署下半年重推餘貨,涉約四十餘伙,集中高層,包括七個位於極高層的複式單位,以及少量頂層單位,暫時未定售價,將會按之後市況變化再決定。他表示,由於物業接近入伙期,重推時將以現樓形式登場。

單幢式設計

資料指,皇族以單幢盤設計,提供約一百九十八伙,分別為一百八十六個分層單位、九個複式單位及三個頂層單位,大部分單位望海景及氹仔開揚景。分層單位一梯六伙,間隔包括兩房及三房,面積介乎一千至二千八百八十八方呎不等;複式單位每兩層三伙,面積介乎二千八百至三千五百方呎;頂層單位則每層僅一伙,面積約五千方呎。

該盤去年三月首度登場,據悉,至今已累售約一百五十伙。黃智威表示,市場憧憬第三季新特首上台,將帶動樓市上升,而近期樓市觸底回升,除了與周邊地區樓市氣氛好轉、銀行「放水」等有關外,四厘補貼計畫即將落實,亦為成交量增加的原因之一。

累售約150伙

他預料,第二季每月住宅成交量將回升至約五百宗,第三季會進一步回升到七百至八百宗。樓價方面,黃智威指,第二季至今已見到升幅,由於樓市由用家主導,中小型物業升幅較顯著,與首季比較,上升約一成至一成五,而豪宅物業上升速度則較慢,幅度僅一成,預料第三季整體樓價將在百分之五窄幅徘徊。除了用家外,近期開始有外地投資者趁低吸納,估計近月成交中有兩成由投資者承接。美聯營業經理梁國文表示,如早前就有一名投資者,一口氣購入氹仔區濠庭都會第八座四個單位,涉資一千四百餘萬元,而另一名內地投資者近日購入第五座中層B及C室,涉資約九百四十萬元。
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Old June 16th, 2009, 04:27 PM   #40
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HOUSE OF CARDS - His fortune waning, James Packer bets it all on the City of Dreams
7 June 2009
Sunday Telegraph

The fortunes of one of Australia's wealthiest families are riding on an audacious attempt to dominate the Macau gambling scene, Paul Barry writes.

Kerry Packer was a huge gambler who lost hundreds of millions of dollars on the gaming tables. And his son is beginning to resemble him -- in more ways than one.

James Packer, is physically huge, for a start, and, at 41, looks just like his father. He's also betting big. Since the old man died in December, 2005, James has been making far bigger bets than Kerry ever dared.

And he's lost almost every one of them. In Las Vegas alone, Packer's company, Crown Ltd, has dropped more than $1 billion since late 2007. Way more than Kerry lost in a lifetime.

Last week, Packer slammed another $3 billion on the table with City of Dreams, Melco Crown Entertainment's new mega-casino/resort in Macau.

It opened with a spectacular fireworks display for 600 VIP guests, 500 Asian journalists and thousands of eager Chinese punters.

Today, Packer is waiting nervously to see whether he has backed a winner at last.

He knows that if this bet fails, it could spell the end of his dream to become a world-class casino operator.

He knows, too, that a loss will make another dent in his fortune, which has already halved to $3 billion, relegating him to sixth place on Australia's BRW Rich 200 list.

The centrepiece of Packer's glitzy development on Macau's Cotai Strip -- a swath of reclaimed marshland that joins two small islands in the former Portuguese colony -- is a huge casino whose gambling floor is twice the size of the Sydney Cricket Ground.

With its 519 gaming tables, 1350 poker machines and (hopefully) hordes of Chinese punters, it should pack a much bigger punch than Crown in Melbourne or Sydney's Star City.

But please don't call it a casino. Lawrence Ho, Packer's partner in the joint venture, managed to get through his welcome speech in Macau last week without once using the ``c'' word. And Greg Hawkins, City of Dreams' Australian chief executive, almost repeated the trick.

They ran through at least a dozen different euphemisms, calling it an ``international entertainment resort'', a ``leisure and lifestyle experience'', an ``urban entertainment centre'', a ``food and beverage and retail experience'' and even a ``multi-day-stay leisure and recreation destination''.

Perhaps this was because gambling is illegal in mainland China, where many of the journalists were from.

Perhaps it was because a new casino is old news in Macau, which now has 15 times as many gaming tables as Melbourne and 20 times as many as Sydney.

Or perhaps they just couldn't call a spade a spade.

James Packer didn't have to perform any verbal gymnastics, because he didn't open his mouth. Not in public anyway.

He ducked the morning media conference and declined to say anything at the ribbon-cutting ceremony or at the guitar-smashing show to christen City of Dreams' new Hard Rock Hotel.

The most he could manage was an awkward, ``Great, great'' as he and his wife, Erica, hurried away from a crafty ambush by Mark Burrows, from the Packers' old TV network, Channel Nine.

So it was left to Greg Hawkins to tell us that James had ``walked through the property'' and was ``amazed and very excited''.

By evening, Packer was certainly beaming. At the VIP gala dinner, barred to the media, he was relaxed and smiling.

According to an observer, he hugged the casino's builder, Leighton's Wal King, and put an arm around one of his bankers, Deutsche Bank's Rob Rankin.

By this stage of the proceedings, Packer was clearly feeling relieved. And it wasn't just the vintage Dom Perignon champagne or the free-flowing Chateau Latour that lifted his mood.

The new casino had been built, it looked fabulous, and the launch had gone off without a hitch.

Better still, when the doors had been flung open at 8pm, as the last sparks sank into the artificial lake, thousands of Chinese gamblers had streamed in.

By morning, no fewer than 40,000 visitors -- from Macau, Hong Kong and the adjoining mainland -- had come through the property. And many had stayed to lose money on the tables.

How did Packer's people know this? Because City

of Dreams has hi-tech, infrared people counters on its entrances.

Halfway through the celebration dinner, Hawkins dragged his media-shy boss to the gaming floor to show him the joint was jumping.

``Yeah, James is very pleased,'' Hawkins told me when I ran into him in the casino just before midnight.

And Packer had every reason to be cheerful. In the past few weeks, there have been several signs his nightmare run is over.

For a start, stock markets are picking up. The share price of Melco Crown Entertainment, the joint venture that owns City of Dreams and the older Crown Macau casino, has more than doubled in recent months.

Even better, the price of Packer's Australian flagship company, Crown Limited, has bounced back from $4.50 to $7.35 since March.

Shares in Consolidated Media Holdings (which owns seek.com.au, half of Fox Sports and a quarter of the pay-TV operator Foxtel) have also recovered.

Together, these factors have restored almost $1 billion to Packer's fortune. And, boy, did he need it.

Until recently, he was down by more than $4 billion -- two-thirds of what he inherited from his father.

Some of that loss reflects falling share prices, but Packer has lost real money, too. And his judgment has been shocking.

After pulling off a great coup by selling Channel Nine and his magazine empire for $5 billion at the very top of the market, he went on a huge spree in Las Vegas and splashed out on four big casino deals at wildly inflated prices.

All of these went horribly wrong, with total cash losses to his flagship company, Crown Limited, of around $1 billion.

Packer's 2007 punt on a new Crown Las Vegas, at the shabby north end of the Strip -- in what was to be the world's tallest building -- failed because the banks wouldn't fund the project.

Locals never believed it would get off the ground, anyway. So that was goodbye to $45 million.

Next came a $333 million wager in mid-2007 on a 20 per cent stake in the new Fontainebleau Las Vegas Resort, which is being built next door to the abandoned Crown Las Vegas site.

It was due to be finished in October this year, but all work stopped a month ago when bankers pulled the plug. Kiss another $333 million goodbye.

Then there was a $242 million flutter on a five per cent stake in Station Casinos, the largest suburban casino operator in Vegas.

Sadly, Station went bankrupt in March, and Packer is unlikely to pull anything from the wreckage. Bye-bye to a further $242 million.

Shortly afterwards came a $172 million wager on a 2.5 per cent stake in Harrah's, the world's largest casino operator. Harrah's, too, is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, so Packer has probably lost the lot again.

Then there was Crown's venture to buy casinos in Canada with the Macquarie Group. It has so far resulted in losses of $49 million.

And it would have been even worse but for a miraculous escape.

Crown's biggest deal, struck in December, 2007, was to spend $US1.8 billion on Cannery Casino Resorts, which owns three casinos in Vegas and one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

A year later, as Pennsylvania regulators pondered whether to give Packer a licence, these casinos were worth about half what Crown had agreed to pay.

Then, by a great stroke of luck, Gretel Packer and three secretive Packer trusts, based in the Bahamas, suddenly decided they could tolerate no further investigation.

Soon afterwards, the deal fell apart, and Crown agreed to pay as much as $US250 million in penalties. But this saved Packer's company from taking a potential $900 million hit.

Until now, Packer's fortunes in Macau haven't been going much better.

Since 2005, his venture with Lawrence Ho -- son of Dr Stanley Ho, who held a monopoly on casino gaming in Macau for 40 years -- has accumulated losses of almost $US300 million.

Part of the problem is that Melco Crown paid $US900 million ($1.2 billion) for its casino licence, whereas its competitors mostly got in for free. Another is that Packer and Ho arrived much later than their rivals.

But that's not all. Their first casino, the $US600 million Crown Macau, is miles from the main gaming area and was a hopeless, mass-market casino.

Within weeks of its opening in June, 2007, Packer and Ho were ripping out the baccarat tables and poker machines and redesigning the casino for VIP gamblers. They then had to hire a so-called ``junket consolidator'' to bring in high-rollers.

For a short period in early 2008, Crown Macau was the busiest casino in the world, but made little money because it paid the junketeers huge commissions.

Then business fell off again, and Melco Crown slumped to last place in the market. During the most recent quarter, it recorded a $US35 million loss.

Some say Packer and Ho have done well, given that Crown Macau's so bad. But James didn't go to China to lose money and come last. He went to make a fortune, which he hopes City of Dreams will do.

Certainly, the new casino will spread the cost of Melco Crown's $1.2 billion licence and tap into the much more profitable mass market. So it should improve the company's fortunes, and it certainly looks great.

But will City of Dreams succeed? Analysts have called it the ``sink or swim moment''. Lawrence Ho has described it as ``the endgame'' and warned that it could be curtains for Melco Crown if things don't go well.

Certainly, it's a brave time to be opening. After three years of 30 per cent growth, the Macau market has recently been shrinking.

Casino revenues during the latest quarter were 13 per cent down on the corresponding period in 2008. Casinos, including Crown, have been laying off staff, cutting wages and forcing employees to take leave.

Other casino operators have put their development projects on ice.

A kilometre along the Cotai Strip from City of Dreams is the half-finished shell of Galaxy's new Mega Resort. Its owners decided it was a lousy time to open, and stopped construction.

From the Hard Rock Hotel, you can see an even bigger building site. Only 100m from City of Dreams there are four unfinished casinos and another 6000 would-be hotel rooms.

Work stopped suddenly last November when the developer, Las Vegas Sands, ran out of money, and 11,000 workers were sacked. Seven months later, there's no sign of a restart on the project, which has already consumed $US2 billion.

Back then, Las Vegas Sands was on the brink of bankruptcy and its American founder, 75-year-old Sheldon Adelson, was going out backwards.

In 2007, Adelson had been the world's third-richest man, with a fortune of around $US60 billion. Eighteen months later, his shares had lost 99 per cent of their value and Adelson was down to his last billion dollars.

All of which makes James Packer's recent problems seem pretty mild.

But even Adelson appears to have escaped. In the past six weeks, Las Vegas Sands shares have risen sixfold and the threat of bankruptcy has receded.

However, he may still be forced to sell one of his completed Macau properties, which include two huge casinos, the Sands Macao and the even bigger Venetian, just across the road from City of Dreams.

The Venetian is a full-scale reproduction of medieval Venice, including St Mark's Square, the Bridge of Sighs and the famous bell tower. It's also the fourth-largest building in the world, with a casino more than twice the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It draws 50,000 visitors a day and makes $US500 million a year in profit, before interest and tax.

Unfortunately, even that hasn't been sufficient to keep the banks at bay, because Adelson borrowed $US3 billion to build this megalith and a further $US10 billion on similar monuments to extravagance in Las Vegas and Singapore.

All the same, the Venetian's performance is what Packer's City of Dreams

is aiming for.

The idea is to steal some

of the Venetian's customers, or combine with the Venetian to pull punters from casinos in Macau's more popular downtown area.

Research shows that punters typically go to three casinos while they're in the territory, losing 50 per cent at the first, 30 per cent at the second and 20 per cent at the third.

The aim is to get City of Dreams and the Venetian into those top two positions by making the Cotai Strip punters' first port of call.

That's why there has been a huge TV campaign to sell City of Dreams to Asian customers. And that's why Packer's people paid to fly 500 journalists from China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to the opening. For the

record, The Sunday

Telegraph counted only three journalists from Australia, all of whom had to push hard for an invitation.

So far, brokers' analysts are optimistic. So is Lawrence Ho, who says the worst is past for Macau, the market is ``buzzing'' and he and Packer are ``confident'' of success. Analysts predict City of Dreams will make close to $1 million a day in profit (before interest, tax and depreciation) on roughly $4 million a day in revenue.

That would involve 40,000 people losing an average of $100 apiece -- and lose they certainly will. That's the beauty of casinos. As James Packer discovered from watching his father, punters never win. And they longer they gamble, the more they lose. Unfortunately, as James has also discovered, the owners don't always benefit unless they have a monopoly -- as Crown does in Melbourne and Perth. In Macau, there are 31 other casinos to compete with.

But if it does go wrong, James will have some comfort. The $5 billion that has been invested in City of Dreams, Crown Macau and the casino licence is largely other people's money. There's more than $2 billion from the banks. Then there's $2 billion-odd from (mainly American) shareholders in Melco Crown. Finally, there's $500 million apiece from Packer and Ho's respective companies. Remarkably, this relatively small contribution has given Packer and Ho roughly three-quarters of the action between them, and three-quarters of any profits.

The net result is that Packer and Ho are well ahead on their investment, even though ordinary shareholders have lost two-thirds of theirs. All of them will be hoping City of Dreams is a success.
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