City of Dreams to open mid-year, no Taiwan plans

Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Issue 585, Page 4
Word count: 1012
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Melco Crown Entertainment (MPEL) announced yesterday that City of Dreams, its flagship entertainment resort property in Macau, will open mid-2009 which will create up to 10,000 job opportunities in the long run.

Co-chairman and CEO of the joint venture company, Lawrence Ho, also said during the spring festival media luncheon held at Crown Macau that they did not yet have plans to invest in Taiwan’s gaming industry, adding that Macau would always be their first priority and “base of operations”.

Taiwan’s parliament on Monday passed the lifting of a decades old ban that could eventually see casino operations on its offshore islands.

City of Dreams (COD), a US$2.1 billion mega resort situated on the Cotai Strip, is set to offer a variety of entertainment options for visitors in addition to the usual gaming component.

According to Mr Ho, his company would soon start the recruitment drive of 7,000 vacancies for the first phase of opening scheduled to be in the second quarter of this year, “possibly in May or June”.

And in the long run Mr Ho said about 10,000 employees would be needed at the resort, which will house four hotels, over 20 dining venues, a two-level retail space, a theatre, a giant silver dome offering a simulated underwater experience as well as a casino with 550 gaming tables and 1,500 slot machines.

The MPEL Co-chairman and CEO told the Macau Daily Times that 90 percent of the recruits would be local Macau residents.

While he said some personnel would be transferred from Crown Macau to work at COD, the majority of the 7,000 positions would be opened up for applications in the job market.

Asked when he foresaw that the flagship property would be able to gain a full investment return, Mr Ho did not speculate, but said that he was “very confident” in the mainland market, although MPEL was also keen on securing arrivals of visitors from countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.

“Crown Macau took about two to three years to get a full return and certainly COD will take longer because of its scale. But if we didn’t develop the project we would be losing a treasure,” Mr Ho told the MDTimes.

Despite the world currently being under the shadow of a financial crisis, Mr Ho stressed that MPEL had been “fully funded” for the COD development which was going “very nicely”.

“We’re fortunate that we had raised and secured all the funds we needed between 2006 and 2007. The successful financing has placed us in a relatively prime position,” he said.

“We also believe that the worst period of Macau’s tourism industry has already passed, and it will be getting better during this year which will coincide with the opening of COD in the second quarter,” he added.

The Co-chairman and CEO said the economic downturn only impacted on his company in that customers were getting “more cautious” in spending their bucks.

As for the potential Taiwan casino market, Mr Ho told the media from Macau and Hong Kong that MPEL would have an interest in markets “where the political environment is stable”, but added that the interest of its Macau business “always comes first”.

“Our foremost consideration before taking any steps to open casinos outside such as in Taiwan and Japan is whether such expansion will cause any impact to our investment in Macau,” he said.

“We do emphasise that anyhow we are a Macau-based company and whatever we do we want to make sure that we won’t jeopardise what we’re doing here,” he added.

At the same time, Mr Ho affirmed that MPEL would never shift its base of operations from the SAR as it was “where his roots are”.

According to the overarching cooperation established between Australia’s Crown Limited and Hong Kong listed Melco International Development Limited, Mr Ho said Macau was always the company’s base and “overseas development will only be carried out after projects in the SAR succeed”.

On the other hand, Mr Ho saw the visit by Chinese vice president Xi Jinping to Macau on the weekend as “extremely positive” to casino operators.

Although the vice president did not mention anything about whether Macau would be released from Guangdong Province’s visa restrictions, he vowed that China would support the SAR at all costs.

“With his first hand experience in Macau, I think he will go back and adopt appropriate stimulus measures and policies [to help Macau],” Mr Ho said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that there will be measures and policies announced in due course. I’m confident that the visa curbs will also be eased over the next few months,” he added.

China last year repeatedly tightened the restrictions, which resulted in a 10 percent drop in the SAR’s gaming revenues for the third quarter, official statistics showed.

“Without going to Hong Kong it showed that the Chinese government really cares about the development of Macau,” Mr Ho said.

In terms of future vision, the Co-chairman and CEO said MPEL would be very focused on continuing to maintain “the best VIP standard” they could, whilst the goal in 2009 would be to “definitely make City of Dreams the best regional integrated entertainment resort in Macau”.

Back in 2004 when the company started developing the COD project, Mr Ho said they already knew at that time the market was “ever changing” and would need to be diversified towards “tourism, leisure and entertainment”.

“”We want City of Dreams to be complementary with our competitors especially on the Cotai Strip as the project aims to attract non-gambling customers,” he added.

Crown Macau, which Mr Ho said was in the fourth place of the local market share, “will remain focussed on high roller rooms and the VIP segment”.

When asked about the government’s decision to draft an administrative regulation to impose a cap of 1.25 percent on junket commission, Mr Ho told the MDTimes that MPEL was “very supportive” of the move, adding it had been just “one casino operator” that did not comply with the guidelines that eventually led to the formal restriction.


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