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Monday, June 7, 2010

Macau prepares for gaming expo

Macau will this week host a three-day gaming expo as the former Portuguese colony powers ahead as the world's biggest gambling centre, defying dire predictions of a slowdown.

Several thousand people will attend Global Gaming Expo Asia from Tuesday, where industry leaders will discuss a range of issues from the region's future growth to combating cheating at the tables.

The expo comes as Macau continues to post record-setting revenue figures with May gaming sales up 95 per cent year-over-year to 17 billion Macau patacas ($A2.56 billion), according to Hong Kong brokerage CLSA.

Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, has already leapfrogged Las Vegas in gaming revenue after opening up its market to overseas operators in 2002.

"We've been saying for eight months that things would slow down, but they haven't," said Aaron Fischer, a CLSA gaming analyst.

"Logic would say it's going to slow down."

Fischer said he expects Macau tourist arrivals to increase about 10 per cent annually with construction of several stalled casino-hotel developments being restarted on the reclaimed Cotai Strip.

Soaring revenues in the high-roller market are driving the huge gains, rather than an across-the-board surge in money spent on the gaming tables, he added.

Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the American Gaming Association, said the city's record-breaking revenues stood in sharp contrast to US destination venues such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, which have been hit by the global downturn.

"Those are big numbers - people in Asia love to gamble," he told AFP.

"Proximity is an important factor. You've got millions of people within two hours of Macau."

Other Asian countries have keyed in to Macau's success with Singapore opening its second casino in April as part of a bid to lure big spenders from across the region.

The 5.5 billion US dollar Marina Bay Sands was opened by US gaming giant Las Vegas Sands, already a big player in Macau, as part of the firm's bet on Asia as the future of the gaming industry.

Asians "see gaming as a form of entertainment" while Westerners would rather spend money on dining and going out with friends, Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson said when Marina Bay opened its doors.

An expected growth in the number of Asian multimillionaires and middle class following the region's sharp rebound from the economic slump should drive regional travel, including people playing at casinos, observers have said.

Despite concerns over its social impact, Singapore gave the green light for casino gambling in 2005 in a bid to increase tourist arrivals and cash in on a growing trend in Asia.

Outside Macau, casinos are authorised in Australia, Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines among others, while more are underway.

Fahrenkopf dismissed speculation that Macau could face hard times as Singapore and other Asian destinations challenge its dominance.

Las Vegas in the US state of Nevada shivered when New Jersey's Atlantic City opened its doors in the late Seventies, he noted.

"When Atlantic City came online ... everyone in Nevada was deeply concerned," Fahrenkopf said.

"But all it did was introduce more people to casino gaming."