Hollywood stars to launch S$4.5 billion casino resort in Macau

(From left) Filmmaker Brett Ratner, billionaire Lawrence Ho, and billionaire James Packer, during a news conference at Melco's Studio City casino resort in Macau, China, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.
(From left) Filmmaker Brett Ratner, billionaire Lawrence Ho, and billionaire James Packer, during a news conference at Melco's Studio City casino resort in Macau, China, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MACAU (AFP) - Hollywood stars including Leonardo DiCaprio are set to launch Macau's newest US$3.2 billion (S$4.5 billion) casino and entertainment resort, as the southern Chinese enclave's high-roller gambling business takes a hit from China's corruption crackdown.

A day before the official launch of Studio City, developers of what is billed as an "integrated resort" said Monday they are bullish about the future despite the slumping gaming revenues.

Macau in September saw its 16th consecutive month of declining gaming revenue, 33 pe cent lower than the same month last year, as Beijing encourages the territory to diversify from gambling and reins in high-rolling visitors from the Chinese mainland.

Gross revenue for September was 17.13 billion patacas (S$3 billion), according to figures from the former Portuguese colony's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau.

Melco Crown Entertainment, which developed Studio City, said it remains positive about the future of the gambling industry in the semi-autonomous city.

"We hope that the opening of Studio City will be part of a catalyst that will improve gaming revenues," said co-chairman Lawrence Ho, adding that the numbers were affected by the mainland Chinese economy.

"We have great confidence in the long term," Ho said, adding that projects such as the opening of Macau's light rail and a bridge linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau would bring improvements in years to come.

The revenue decline has mostly been attributed to a corruption crackdown spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which has dented the VIP gaming market.

Xi stressed during a December visit that the territory's economy must diversify from casinos.

Developers of the new resort, which boasts the world's highest figure-8 Ferris wheel and a flight simulator based on the Batman series, say it it is moving away from the traditional VIP market which once drove growth.

"We're the second least reliant on VIPs," said Ho, the son of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho.

The resort's opening will be marked by the premiere of "The Audition", a short movie filmed at Studio City, directed by Academy Award-winner Martin Scorsese and starring DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Brad Pitt.

They each reportedly received US$10 million to appear in the short.

Macau, the only part of China where casino gambling is legal, overtook Las Vegas as the world's casino capital in terms of revenue after the sector was opened up to foreign competition in 2002.

Its gambling revenues are still multiple times that of the American city.