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James Packer Bets $3 Billion on Macau Casino

Written by:
Guest
Published on:
Apr/19/2009

SOME of the croupiers shuffling cards at James Packer's huge new casino in Macau will don nose rings and wear blue wigs, as part of a punk-rock theme to attract wealthy Asian gamblers and holidaymakers.

The croupiers will work on tables at the Hard Rock Cafe-themed casino, itself part of the $US2.1 billion ($3.03 billion) City Of Dreams casino development in Macau.

While the popularity of Hard Rock-themed restaurants has waned in Australia, they are popular in Asia and there are three Hard Rock casinos in the US.

The final fit-out of the City Of Dreams project, owned by Mr Packer's joint-venture company, Melco Crown Entertainment, has begun after construction ended earlier this month.

The 520 gaming tables and 1350 poker machines are expected to be open for business in the first week of June, provided several local authorities give an occupancy permit for the site.

The venture will also include a 380-room Hard Rock-themed hotel and a Crown Towers hotel.

After a tour of the project with reporters last week, Mr Packer's co-chairman, Lawrence Ho, conceded there was a lot riding on the success of the project.

He told Bloomberg it was "crucial" that the casino defied the global recession and had a successful opening.

"We know the pressure is on us," Mr Ho said.

"The success of it will have major implications.

"The bleakest days of the industry are past us, which was the fourth quarter."

Mr Packer is also relying on the success of City Of Dreams to vindicate his decision to invest billions of dollars of his own and Crown shareholders' funds in the venture. Crown has a 37 per cent stake in Melco Crown.

The casino is opening in the midst of both the worst global slump since World War II and as the Chinese Government tightens restrictions on the number of visits its citizens can make.

Last week Melco Crown said it had just $US50.3 million in cash remaining from a $US1.75 billion debt facility for the project as at the end of March.

It announced plans to tap the market for a further $US400 million to bolster its balance sheet. It is not known whether Crown will take up its share.

Chinese who visit Macau mostly gamble on credit, using so-called junket operators because they can take only 20,000-yuan ($US3000) plus $US5000 with them.

The company warned it may not be able to recover all of the generous loans it makes to its mostly Chinese VIP gamblers.

Last week high-level representatives of Melco Crown and its five rival casino licence-holders met to discuss a proposed cap on how much commission casinos can pay to the junket operators.

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