MGM opens Macau casino resort as licence renewal looms

MGM Resorts is opening a lavish multibillion-dollar casino resort in Macau, in the latest big bet by foreign gambling companies on the southern Chinese gambling haven.

The launch of the new $3.5bn MGM Cotai resort is a high-stakes wager on the casino market's future in the former Portuguese colony, where gambling licences expire in as little as two years.

Chief executive James Murren said the company is taking a "leap of faith" that the government will extend its licence even though officials have revealed little about the process.

The new resort is Nevada-based MGM's second in the tiny Chinese enclave but the first on the Cotai Strip, an Asian version of the Las Vegas Strip which is the epicentre for extravagant new casino expansion projects.

The doors are opening just in time for the busy Lunar New Year holiday, when mainland Chinese tourists typically flood the tiny enclave.

File image.

The opening was delayed by damage from Typhoon Hato in August, which killed 10 people.

Many of the atrium roof's triangular glass panels still had cracks caused by the storm's high winds but casino representatives said they were safe because only the outer of five glass layers was damaged.

Highlights include a $13m art collection, including 28 Qing Dynasty carpets, luxury shops, celebrity chefs and theatre shows, including one described as a "mind-bending and harmonious technological symphony".

Macau is the world's biggest gambling market and the only place in China where casinos are legal. But uncertainty looms as licences for the city's six casino operators are due to start expiring in 2020, with MGM's among the first.

The government has released no information about the renewal process, the first since a gambling monopoly ended in 2002, allowing in foreign operators including Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts.

"I have no answers but I have a lot of trust" that the government will renew MGM's licence, Mr Murren said.

He added that he thinks officials will do so based on the company's track record of adding non-gambling attractions to help meet the government's goal of diversifying the economy.

"Sometimes you have to have a leap of faith," he said in an interview. "We feel we are the kind of company that the government would like to see here."

Macau chief executive Chui Sai-on has said mid-2018 would be an appropriate time to provide details.

- PA

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