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Casino opens with a flourish

29 August 2007

By Sylvia Hui

MACAU -- With the crash of a champagne bottle against a gondola, Macau's Venetian casino opened Tuesday, dwarfing anything in Las Vegas and big enough, its operators say, to shift the magnetic north of the gambling world to this small city in southern China.

American billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, inaugurated the $2.4 billion Venetian Macau on Cotai by smashing the bottle against the gondola. The boat will float down one of three indoor canals -- The Venetian in Las Vegas has one.

Casinos like the Wynn and Adelson's Sands have led this small city in southern China past the Strip as the world's most lucrative gambling center.

Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., wants to take it a step further with the 10.5 million square foot Venetian.

Hundreds of visitors streamed under the golden dome just inside the entrance Tuesday, treading on thick champagne-colored carpet and gazing at frescoes.

Adelson hopes the complex will transform Macau from a gambling pit stop for Chinese tourists to a vacation and business convention destination, where visitors shop, watch shows -- and roll the dice.

"Today is the beginning of what has been a dream of mine for some time -- to reproduce the capital of entertainment in Asia for Asians," Adelson said at a news conference.

Macau's casinos are scattered across the territory, a peninsula connected to mainland China and two outlying islands by a reclaimed strip of land called Cotai.

Adelson said his Venetian Macau on Cotai is the cornerstone of what will become a concentrated resort area he calls the Cotai Strip.

Las Vegas Sands claims that The Venetian Macau -- twice the size of the Las Vegas original -- is the largest building in Asia and the second largest in the world. Boeing Co. claims it has the world's largest building -- a plant in Washington state.

The Venetian boasts what it claims to be the world's largest gaming space of 550,000 square feet, housing 3,400 slot machines -- with room to expand to 6,000 -- and more than 800 gambling tables.

It has 3,000 rooms, a 15,000-seat sports arena, retail space for 350 stores, 1.2 million square feet of convention space, fine dining and a Cirque du Soleil-produced show.

Its decor is Venice inspired -- with a Chinese touch. Chinese-style sampans as well as gondolas will sail down canals. The resort also features a replica of Venice's St. Mark's Square.

Adelson also plans to open more hotels under brands such as Four Seasons, Sheraton and St. Regis. In all, his Las Vegas Sands Corp., which also runs the Sands Macau on the Macau peninsula, plans to invest up to $12 billion and build 20,000 hotel rooms on the Cotai Strip by 2010.

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