MGM China is opening its new multi-billion-dollar mega resort in Macau’s glitzy Cotai strip on Tuesday following multiple delays and last-minute hiccups in the government approval process.
The launch of the $3.4-billion resort comes as Macau is undergoing something of a renaissance, with gaming revenues bouncing back after being hard hit by a corruption crackdown launched by China’s President Xi Jinping in 2012.
The mega project’s launch faced repeated delays, including in August when Typhoon Hato ripped a path of destruction across southern China, leaving 10 dead in Macau and businesses and homes washed out in the territory’s worst typhoon for over 50 years.
MGM China postponed its opening again in January, saying the company was “undergoing the administrative approval process of obtaining relevant licences”.
Macau, a semi-autonomous territory, is the only place in China where gambling is legal, bringing in revenue that easily dwarves Las Vegas.
Macau’s revenues took a hit after Xi declared his war on graft with many mainland big spenders staying away from the enclave, which had gained a reputation as a centre for laundering money out of China.
In response to the crackdown, casino giants launched a slew of new mega resorts, offering everything from fine dining to theme parks as they looked to attract more mass-market gamblers to compensate for the fall in high rollers.
The gamble appears to have paid off as Macau’s gaming revenues soared 36 percent year-on-year in January.
MGM Cotai is the latest casino in the Chinese gambling enclave to push non-gaming attractions, offering a luxury spa and an art collection.
The casino’s enormous lobby is the length of a football field and is filled with LED screens showing images of natural landscapes, with rare plants covering the walls.
Another special hall is adorned by framed Qing Dynasty-era carpets that came from Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Some big spenders have now returned to the territory, with high rollers being the biggest drivers of revenue growth in 2017, Bloomberg News reported.
But Grant Bowie, the chief executive officer of MGM China, said the company had consciously decided to broaden their offering and take the focus off high-end gamblers to bring them in line with Chinese government priorities.
The company’s licence is up for renewal in 2020, and whether they are granted an extension will be “determined not by how successful we are at running casinos, but how successful we are at diversifying, allowing Macau to become more than just a gaming town,” Bowie said.
The lavish new casino “is part of that process of demonstrating our commitment to Macau”, he said, adding that their heavy investment aims show that they are here for the long-term.
MGM were only allocated 100 gambling tables for the new casino, so moved an additional 77 from MGM Macau.
Their main focus is “premium mass” market not high-rollers, he said, and the company is not even opening VIP tables at the launch.
MGM China, a tie-up between Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International and Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, went public in Hong Kong in 2011.
The elder Ho was credited with transforming Macau from a sleepy Portuguese outpost to a gaming boomtown.
But Macau, home to six licensed casino operators, might now be expecting to face competition from outside the territory.
Beijing is considering plans to allow gambling on Hainan island and end a long-standing ban in mainland China, according to reports this month, which would be a historic turnaround for the communist government.