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Macau Fast Becoming Vegas Strip Far East

6 September 2006

Las Vegas Sun

MACAU -- Steve Wynn elevated Las Vegas' presence in China on Tuesday, opening the first megaresort in this one-time Portuguese colony and taking his competition with fellow mogul Sheldon Adelson to a new level - the burgeoning Asian marketplace.

With dazzling fireworks and his trademark signature shining crisply at the arching top of his hotel - a sized-down knockoff of his Las Vegas resort - the casino developer who helped change the face of Las Vegas staked out his latest ground, opening the 600-room Wynn Macau with more than 5,000 employees.

Out front, dancing waters - inspired by the fountains he installed when building the Bellagio - wooed invited guests as Wynn beamed and swayed to the musical accompaniment.

"Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore," he quipped to reporters.

Within minutes of opening, the $1.2 billion resort was pulsing with about 4,000 gamblers, spilling out of the high-limit room and angling for seats at every table. Lines quickly formed at the Red Card Players Club booth, where gamblers were issued loyalty cards that will track and rate their play.

The pitched turnout was anticipated, with Macau poised to eclipse Las Vegas as the world's next gambling mecca.

"And we're not just in Las Vegas anymore - and that's fine," Wynn added, borrowing Dorothy's line from "The Wizard of Oz" to describe his transcontinental jump to target a largely untapped and hungry market.

The opening of Wynn Macau followed by two years the arrival of Las Vegas in this southern Chinese peninsula. Adelson's Sands Macau, a free-standing casino, opened in May 2004.

Adelson, who has reaped great rewards from his Macau casino, will try to top Wynn's effort with the opening of the Venetian Macau, planned for 2007.

Adelson was in Macau last month for the topping-out ceremony of his 3,000-suite replica of the Venetian in Las Vegas at an area known as the Cotai Strip, a 10-minute drive from Wynn's property.

And MGM Mirage is also heading this way.

Before the doors to Wynn Macau opened to the public late Tuesday - 30 minutes ahead of schedule - Wynn and his wife, Elaine, entertained hundreds of invited guests, including Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho, casino competitor Stanley Ho, former Golden Nugget owners Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, and boxing promoter Bob Arum.

The Wynns took their guests outside the hotel, on the rim of the 800,000-gallon performance lake, to witness its Bellagio-like dancing fountains and rousing pyrotechnics. The fireworks concluded with Wynn's giant signature emblazoned in fire across the entire face of the chocolate-colored hotel tower.

Wynn Macau stands in stark contrast to anything the Macau market has seen.

Macau, a former Portuguese settlement, has cobblestone streets teeming with tourists poring over the wares of Chinese merchants.

Its casinos are filled with two-fisted gamblers who scream at the baccarat tables while standing three-deep as they bet.

Wynn has taken a different path.

Wynn Macau features his trademark gardens and fine art, including works by Henri Matisse and Pierre Auguste Renoir.

While most Macau casinos cram as many baccarat and other gaming tables as possible into their available space, Wynn gives his customers room to breathe.

Casino industry analysts who attended the opening said status-conscious Chinese will throng to gamble at the most luxurious casino and resort in the city.

Next door to the Wynn, a new hotel by former Adelson partner Galaxy Casinos has a twin-tower project almost twice as tall as the Wynn. MGM Mirage is building its project next to Galaxy and Wynn. And, Stanley Ho isn't sitting on his hands - a major expansion is under way at the Lisboa, across the street from Wynn and one of the formidable mainstay casinos in the market.

Asked whether the boom would produce an oversupply of gambling opportunities in Macau, Wynn harked back to the Las Vegas phenomenon.

"Las Vegas is a perfect answer to that question," he said. "Visitor volume has actually increased with the growth that has occurred in the town. Hotels that are not wonderful will struggle. Hotels that are wonderful will not struggle."

Wynn Macau is strikingly similar to its sister property in Las Vegas.

It has an Okada Japanese restaurant - named for Wynn's Japanese partner Kazuo Okada - and Wing Lei, a Cantonese establishment. It also has Tryst, an ultralounge that will be open from 10 p.m. until dawn. The resort's spa menu has 45 different treatments.

There's no mountain at Wynn Macau. Instead there's an Italian restaurant, Il Teatro, built atop the resort's porte-cochere, giving diners the best seat in the house for the fountain show.

The shopping area features several new-to-Macau brands, including Bulgari, Chanel, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Rolex, Prada and Tiffany & Co., as well as Wynn's signature stores.

The casino has 220 tables - heavily stocked with Macau's game of choice, baccarat - and 380 slot machines. The casino also offers American favorites - blackjack and roulette - as well as sic bo and fan tan, games more likely to appeal to Chinese gamblers.

For his press conference Wynn abandoned his three-piece business suit for a less-formal traditional Chinese shirt, inscribed on the back with the phrase, "Knowledge destroys fear."

"Experience is a wonderful thing," he said. "We've had a lot, but not in Asia. We have to approach this moment with humility because we have a lot to learn."

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