The game is on

10:04 | 02/10/2012
The recent opening of the 4,000-room Sheraton Macau Hotel’s first tower was the realization of US casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson’s vision of a fully integrated resort city on the Cotai Strip in Macau. He is widely credited with transforming it from a swampland into a row of large, Las Vegas-style casinos.

When all phases of Sands Cotai Central’s development are complete in early 2013, the combined portfolio of Sands China – a subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands Corporation - will feature over 9,000 hotel rooms, 120,000 square metres of meeting and convention space, more than 90 dining options, 600 shops and 85,000 square metres of gaming space.

But the casino pioneer’s ambitions don’t stop there. Adelson has announced plans to build The Parisian, a $2.5 billion, 3,000-room resort in Macau and the $22 billion Euro Vegas in Madrid. He is also setting his sights on other Asian destinations beyond Macau and Singapore to expand his portfolio of casinos -  further additions in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam are all under consideration.

Adelson has long expressed his interest in developing billion dollar resorts in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and when Timeout’s editor Ngoc Son caught up with him for a Q&A at the opening of the Sheraton Macau Hotel, he once again confirmed Vietnam is somewhere he is seeking to invest.

When people in Vietnam think about Las Vegas, they think about casinos and gambling. But recently when you talk to the Vietnamese authorities and press, you talk about the integrated resort. Why the change in focus?

Because of the business model you see here in Macau. You know the largest casino in the world – the Venetian has 1,500 seats; but it only occupies 4 per cent of the Venetian’s total space. We receive 2.5 million people a month there - 30 million people come to the Venetian in a year. Why? Because there is a whole basket of amenities: shopping, very fine restaurants, and a food-court with simple chicken and rice or vegetable spring-rolls, like I enjoyed very much in Vietnam.

We have 350 rooms for MICE– meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. This is the breeding ground for the growth of an economy, because it’s very difficult to grow from within the economy - growth potential comes from foreigners. But you’ve got to find reasons to bring foreigners in - not just leisure tours and sightseeing. So when you have somewhere people can meet, that’s the beginning, because when they come one time and they like what they see, they will come back again and bring their family for leisure tourism later.

Why is the casino service indispensible to your integrated resorts in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macao?

Because it’s the business model that has been established. The main reason is entertainment
loses money, MICE loses money, spas lose money. But in order to have the capacity to attract all the MICE business and the tourism, you’ve got to have both businesses that make money and lose money. So we need the casino to subsidize the things that we must have but don’t make money. That’s the business model for the integrated resort.

Some might ask why we don’t start by building the hotel, the shopping, MICE space and entertainment space then think about a casino, but that doesn’t work. There’s not one convention center in the world that makes money and there are hundreds if not thousands of exhibition centers. They are all are owned by municipalities because municipalities have the incentive to pay people to come and bring economic development.

Gambling is illegal in Vietnam and gaming services are limited to foreigners only. What in your opinion, as a big investor, are the reasons for the Vietnamese Government to say ‘yes’ to your investment project?

Let me first refer to the gaming. Gaming is done outside of the law. It starts underground. It starts illegally all over the world. I understand you have greyhound racing - can you legally bet on greyhound races? It’s legal! Do you have a lottery? That’s legal - what is that? Isn’t that gambling?
What are the other forms of gambling you have? Boat races? You know in Japan and Korea they have legal boat races? Can you bet on sports? No, not yet? But everybody would like to. Listen: we all know that if people are not doing it legally, they are going illegally.

There’s nothing different about Vietnam than any other country in that respect. Gambling is one of the life’s pleasures – for many people, particularly Asian people, gaming and taking chances is part of their culture.  Me too. I am a big risk-taker. I am one of the biggest risk-takers anywhere, because I bet five billion, ten billion US dollars on property developments like this. So it’s just the nature of people who get excitement out of taking risk.

What if they say ‘no’?

Well, we don’t like to give up easily - we are very persistent. I will give you an example. In Singapore, in 24 months, tourism increased by 41 per  cent. If Vietnam does not want it, it loses out on the opportunity of such growth. Tourism is all new money from outside. So this is a major benefit, creating jobs and generating taxes.  

You should not have Internet gaming at all - it’s very bad. But if an adult wants to take some money and go and enjoy themselves, to gamble a little bit, then they are adults - let them take their money and do so. But if they reject us, we will still keep monitoring in case anything changes.

Look, there are maybe 125 countries all over the world that have legalised gambling - if it’s so bad, that wouldn’t have happened.

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