Melco PBL Entertainment to seek top high-rollers with its 1st Macau casino

MACAU (AP) - Macau's newest casino, the Crown Macau, opened its doors on Saturday, billing itself as the first in the tiny Chinese territory to offer a six-star gambling experience. 

Hundreds of gamblers poured into the casino, a joint venture between Hong Kong-based Melco International Development Ltd. and Australia's Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd. It will vie for high rollers with dozens of casinos already stationed in Macau, which surpassed the Las Vegas Strip last year as the world's gambling center. 

The casino hotel, located on Taipa Island, off the main Macau peninsula where most casinos are clustered, is a 36-story tower featuring 220 gaming tables, 500 slot machines and 216 hotel rooms. 

It is the first project launched by U.S.-listed Melco PBL Entertainment Ltd., a casino operator set up to tap the booming gambling industry in Macau - the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. 

The joint venture is headed by Australia's richest man, James Packer, and Lawrence Ho, son of Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho. 

Executives said the Crown aims to focus on the wealthiest gamblers - the top end of the so-called "VIP'' market - with what they call the most luxurious gambling environment yet seen in Macau. 

"What we want to bring to Macau is the six-star experience,'' Crown Macau chief executive Greg Hawkins said. "We're aspiring to the premium individual players around the world who'll fly in on our own aircraft.'' 

"What we're building is a property that's not the biggest, but we think that quality is more important than quantity,'' he added. 

Some analysts believe Crown's main rival will be U.S. tycoon Steve Wynn's casino, which has positioned itself as the plushest gambling venue in Macau since it opened last September. 

"Crown appeals to the very high end,'' said Merrill Lynch analyst Roger Suyama. "I think they will be quite competitive with the Wynn.'' 

Melco PBL's only current source of income is its chain of non-casino sites with slot machines, called the Mocha Clubs. 

The company has two more Macau casino projects lined up. The City of Dreams resort, located on the Cotai Strip just across from Las Vegas Sands' massive Venetian resort, is due to open in phases beginning in late 2008. A third casino is in the early stages of planning. 

Jonathan Galaviz, a partner at Globalysis Ltd., a Las Vegas-based consultancy firm, said Crown Macau has the advantage of combining Melco's local experience with PBL's relationships in the industry in Australia. 

"The Melco-PBL joint venture capitalizes upon Melco's experience in Asia, combined with PBL's consumer entertainment legacy,'' he said.-AP 

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