Macau Developer Upbeat About Future

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(Reuters) - Macau gaming developer Melco Crown Entertainment said on Tuesday it expects the Asian gambling centre to rebound from a sharp contraction, while eyeing expansion opportunities in Taiwan's emerging casino market.

'The worst period for Macau's tourism industry is probably over,' said Lawrence Ho, CEO and and co-chairman of Melco Crown Entertainment, which says it is on track to open its City of Dreams integrated resort on the Cotai strip by early summer.

Stringent travel curbs imposed by the Chinese government last year, coupled with concerns about a deep global downturn, have strangled growth in the once-booming gambling haven, which has now superseded Las Vegas as the world's largest gaming market.

A recent visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to Macau failed however to culminate in a widely expected relaxation of visa curbs by Beijing, sending shares in property plays like Melco, Wynn and Sands' and Stanley (nyse: SXE - news - people ) Ho's flagship SJM Holdings sharply lower this week.

Hopes that Beijing would ease visa restrictions and a global rebound in equities from multi-year lows helped Melco shares rise around 70 percent in the last three months, though the stock is stil down nearly 80 percent over the last year.

'2009 should get gradually better,' Lawrence Ho told reporters in Macau.

Ho, the well-connected son of Macau gaming tycoon Stanley Ho, added that he 'wouldn't be surprised' if the visa restrictions were eased by Beijing in due course. Macau was a Portuguese-run enclave of China before returning to Chinese rule in 1999.

Ho said 7,000 new jobs would be created in the first phase of the $2.1 billion City of Dreams at the tip of the Cotai Strip, a dusty isthmus lauded as Asia's answer to Las Vegas' neon alley. Melco Crown and Wynn are the only two casino operators adding new capacity in Macau over the next 18 months.

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