Melco opens $4.5b casino with bet on Batman to revive fortunes

A worker walking past an entrance to Studio City casino resort, developed by Melco Crown in Macau, on Oct 26, 2015.
A worker walking past an entrance to Studio City casino resort, developed by Melco Crown in Macau, on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
A statue standing in front of the Studio City casino resort, developed by Melco Crown in Macau, on Oct 26, 2015.
A statue standing in front of the Studio City casino resort, developed by Melco Crown in Macau, on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Employees at gaming tables at Studio City casino resort, ahead of its grand opening, on Oct 26, 2015.
Employees at gaming tables at Studio City casino resort, ahead of its grand opening, on Oct 26, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Melco Crown's Studio City, with a 130m high Ferris wheel seen on top of the resort, on Oct 26, 2015.
Melco Crown's Studio City, with a 130m high Ferris wheel seen on top of the resort, on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS
Decoration lights at the main entrance of Melco Crown's Studio City in Macau on Oct 26, 2015.
Decoration lights at the main entrance of Melco Crown's Studio City in Macau on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

MACAU (REUTERS) - Batman and Wonder Woman are just some of the superheroes casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd is deploying at its new US$3.2 billion (S$4.5 billion) casino in Macau, which opens on Tuesday (Oct 27) in the midst of a sharp downturn for the Asian gambling playground.

Mariah Carey will headline a star-studded opening ceremony for the Hollywood-themed Studio City resort, Melco Crown's third in the southern Chinese territory, the only place in the country where casino gambling is legal.

Studio City represents a break from the other 37 casinos operating in Macau. It has no VIP baccarat lounges and will focus instead on mass-market casual gamblers, in a sign of the times for the world's largest gambling hub.

Macau's gaming revenues have slumped to around 4-year lows as China's economic growth slows and a corruption crackdown deters high-rollers.

Studio City brings a new element to the city in terms of non-gaming amenities, but analysts say its opening will not change the industry's gloomy outlook.

"Until the macro situation is resolved, it is unlikely that new property openings no matter from which operator will add significantly to industry revenues," said Michael Ting, analyst at CIMB Securities in Hong Kong.

Studio City is the second resort to open in Macau this year after Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd opened its Broadway casino and resort extension in May.

Melco received permission to operate 250 gaming tables, more than the 150 tables predicted by analysts but less than the 400 tables Melco had requested from the government.

Studio City's non-gaming elements were the main reason for the allocation, said Lionel Leong, Macau's Secretary for Economy and Finance.

The government granted Galaxy 150 tables earlier this year and an additional 100 last week.

Since opening in May, Galaxy has grown its market share among the six Macau operators, even though it posted a 29-per-cent revenue drop for the third quarter.

Union Gaming analyst Grant Govertsen said Galaxy was benefitting from strong growth in its mass segment, even though it remained vulnerable to another slump in VIP revenue due to its reliance on big-spenders.

Melco, by contrast, is more positioned towards the non-VIP sector, a strategy its latest casino is set to reinforce.