U.S. casinos break monopoly in Macau
By Elaine Kurtenbach
HONG KONG Hoping to lure millions of dollars in investment from Las Vegas casinos, the gambling enclave of Macau awarded two gaming licenses to two U.S.-based companies yesterday, ending a 40-year monopoly held by local tycoon Stanley Ho.
Macau tycoon Stanley Ho, 80, says he welcomes the "newcomers" from Las Vegas. His casinos account for more than half the business activity in Macau.
The third went to Macau Gambling Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Ho's Macau Tourism and Amusement Co., which now operates 11 casinos in the city of 440,000 people.
Francis Tam Pak-yuen, Macau's secretary for economy and finance, said Ho's company was awarded a license for the sake of the "stability of the gambling industry."
Ho's Macau Gambling Co. offered its congratulations to "the newcomers" and welcomed the decision as evidence of the government's "recognition" of the pivotal role of his gambling empire, which accounts for more than half the city's economic activity.
"We'll employ more people and create more job opportunities so fewer people will be unemployed," said Ho, 80, who spends most of his time in Hong Kong, 40 miles east of Macau.
Twenty-one companies, including Las Vegas gambling empire MGM Mirage and Britain's Aspinall's Club Ltd., had bid for the chance to compete with Ho's gambling empire, which owns most of Macau's hotels and shuttles most visitors on high-speed ferries from Hong Kong and other Chinese cities.
Las Vegas casinos say they expect a lucrative gaming market among the increasingly affluent 1.3 billion mainland Chinese.
Macau expects the Las Vegas casinos to polish its gaming industry with their flashier style and resort-like atmosphere, helping the sleepy port achieve its goal of becoming a regional center for tourism, entertainment and conferences.
Gambling is banned in Hong Kong and in mainland China, which took over Macau in 1999 after more than four centuries of Portuguese rule but allows a high degree of autonomy.
Macau's economy has been in decline since the late 1990s. Though Ho's casinos exude opulence, with marble floors and sparkling chandeliers, the patrons crowd around tables in crowded, run-down rooms. Prostitutes openly prowl the halls.
Ho's casinos and related businesses employ 15,000 people who make up about one-fifth of the city's work force.
Ho, with assets estimated at $1.8 billion by Forbes magazine, has been diversifying with investments in Portugal, Australia, Vietnam and North Korea as well as a cyber-gaming venture.
"We are not worried. We are the biggest company in Macau and the richest company," Ho said in an interview with The Associated Press last year.
Competition won't come right away. Macau officials said the newcomers would be allowed to set up "temporary" casinos within six to nine months, pending completion of permanent facilities.