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MGM casino resort opens as license renewal looms

A shot of the exterior of MGM’s US$3.4 billion Cotai casino resort in Macau yesterday. — AFP

A shot of the exterior of MGM’s US$3.4 billion Cotai casino resort in Macau yesterday. — AFP

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

Las Vegas, Nevada-based MGM Resorts International opened its US$3.4 billion resort’s doors, watched over by a colossal statue of MGM’s signature gold lion, yesterday. It’s a high-stakes wager on the casino market’s future in Macau, where gambling licenses expire in as little as two years.

CEO James Murren said the company was taking a “leap of faith” that the government will extend its license even though officials have revealed little about the process.

The new resort, MGM Cotai, is its second in the tiny Chinese enclave but the first on the Cotai Strip, an Asian version of the Las Vegas Strip that’s the epicenter for extravagant new casino expansion projects.

The doors open just in time for the busy weeklong Lunar New Year holiday beginning tomorrow, when Chinese mainland tourists typically flood the tiny enclave.

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 US$13 million art collection of 28 Qing Dynasty carpets, an orb-shaped Swarovski crystal chandelier and haute couture dresses decorating the lobby. There are also luxury shops, celebrity chefs and theater shows, including one described as a “mind-bending and harmonious technological symphony.” The atrium’s sides are covered in LED screens showing digital art such as rice paddies at sunset or “green walls” growing endangered plant species

Macau is the world’s biggest gambling market and the only place in China where casinos are legal. Licenses 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 also 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 license, Murren said. He said 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,” Murren said in an interview. “We feel we are the kind of company the government would like to see here.”

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