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By Farah Master
MACAU (Reuters) - U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson opens his fifth resort in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau on Tuesday, as signs emerge of a turnaround in the territory's fortunes after two years of falling revenues cast doubt on the wisdom of new developments.
Sands China <1928.HK>, a subsidiary of Adelson's Las Vegas Sands <LVS.N>, throws open the doors of the $3 billion Parisian just three weeks after another Las Vegas tycoon, Steve Wynn, opened his latest pleasure palace in the former Portuguese colony.
Some analysts questioned whether the semi-autonomous territory on China's southern tip, the only place in the country where gambling is legal, could cope with the new supply as gaming revenues plumbed 5-year lows.
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Macau's casino industry has been hit by China's slowing economic growth, a campaign against demonstrations of wealth among public officials which drove many high-rollers into the arms of rival Asian destinations, and a government push to wean Macau off gambling by promoting a more family-friendly image.
But monthly gambling revenues grew for the first time in over two years in August, inching up 1 percent, amid signs that wealthy gamblers are starting to return and operators are learning to make money from mass-market visitors.
"Is it (growth) sustainable for a long time to come? I cannot answer that ... I think we have essentially hit the bottom," Adelson, 83, said at an event prior to the opening.
"It (the return to growth) will be gradual. Macau still has very good days to come and I can't predict what the percentage of growth will be but I am optimistic about the future."
Even if Macau never again reaches the stellar growth of its boom years, casino bosses say they can wear the slowdown. After all, total monthly takings of about $2 billion, while less than half 2014 levels, are still a third of what Las Vegas earns annually.
"We conclude that Macau is now at the start of a mass-led GGR (gross gaming revenue) recovery. Importantly, both base mass and premium mass are growing again," said Karen Tang, an analyst at Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong.
Investors looking for growth from casino stocks, however, will be cautious to see whether the new projects will be able to boost revenues after openings last year by Melco Crown <MPEL.O> and Galaxy Entertainment <0027.HK> failed to increase overall spending, even as they boosted visitor numbers.
"Very difficult to say (when the Parisian will break even)," Adelson said. "We hope it is one year but might be disappointed if it is over four years. I just hope it is sooner rather than later."
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The Parisian, complete with a scale replica of the Eiffel Tower and Versailles-themed interiors, is geared at a broad visitor base in line with government policy to widen Macau's appeal.
Hundreds of hotel rooms are set to bolster the convention and exhibition business, while a rotating Broadway-style show and child attractions are features aimed squarely at luring holiday makers other than hard-core gamblers.
"The mass market will always be here and that is why we built these giant integrated resorts," Adelson said. "If the government is listening please note we are interested in building more here."
Analysts said that while Wynn Palace, which opened on Aug. 22, has attracted interest from high-end customers, its luxury shops and fancy restaurants are mostly empty.
Instead of flocking to the baccarat tables as they used to in Macau's heyday, the crowds at the Palace mainly cluster in front of huge flower installations for selfie opportunities.
In the long term, Macau holds strong appeal as operators are increasingly generating revenue from retail, hotels and mass-market gaming, said David Williamson, head of AM Capital in Hong Kong.
"We estimate this stage to last till 2030. After 2030, we expect the industry to enter maturity stage, which will be characterized by a steady but low-growth and high-dividend payout," he said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing)