Sands can complete Macau casinos in 5 years

 @ibtimes on December 21 2009 5:08 AM

Las Vegas Sands , the world's No. 2 casino operator by market value, could completed all its planned developments on Macau's Cotai strip in five years, sooner than expected, hugely expanding its presence in the world's biggest gambling market.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the founder and CEO of Sands, said business in Las Vegas was recovering and could return to normal levels by 2011. He brushed off suggestions its Singapore casino project could be delayed by months.

Sands -- which last month raised $2.5 billion from listing its Macau unit, Sands China -- plans to build five properties on the Cotai strip, a swathe of reclaimed land some Macau developers have touted as the next Las Vegas strip.

Those properties, including two that are half built, would complement the firm's two existing casinos in Macau, one of which is the Venetian Macau, the world's largest.

We could finish all the (Macau) properties easily within five years, Adelson said at a news conference in Singapore. It depends on how fast we get approvals from the government.

Sands suspended construction of its Cotai projects due to the global financial crisis but has since resumed work.

Aaron Fischer, CLSA's head of Asian consumer and gaming, said he was surprised by Adelson's bullish forecast. It's quite aggressive, he said. Five years is a bit earlier than I thought, but it's a good thing.

Shares in Sands China <1928.HK> fell as much as 6 percent on Monday as some analysts fretted how much the firm may borrow to grow its business.

In term of debt structure, Wynn Macau <1128.HK> is a better choice than Sands China, said William Lo, an analyst at Ample Finance Group in Hong Kong.

Sands, valued at $10 billion, competes in Macau with Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment Group <0027.HK>, SJM Holdings <0880.HK>, Melco Crown Entertainment and MGM Mirage .

The typically upbeat Adelson said Sands expects to open phase one of the two half-completed projects, sites five and six, on the Cotai strip by June 2011. The Las Vegas firm will inject another $500 million into the project using funds raised from the Sands China IPO.

When fully developed, the Cotai strip will house more than 20,000 hotel rooms, over 1.6 million square feet of meetings and convention space, and over 2 million square feet of retail malls.

SINGAPORE DELAY

Adelson rejected local media reports that the Singapore casino's opening slated for end-March could be delayed until June. If everything goes OK, we'll open in the early days of April, he said.

Sands originally planned to open the first phase of its $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands casino-resort on the edge of Singapore's central business district this year, but the opening date was later revised to end-March due to a shortage of sand and labor.

The firm has suffered massive cost overruns on its Singapore project, which was originally budgeted at around $3.2 billion.

Adelson said Singapore's two upcoming casinos could compete with Macau for the same high-rollers, but not in the mass market given the geographical distance between the two cities.

Singapore's other casino, Genting Singapore's Resorts World at Sentosa, looks set to open before the start of the Chinese New Year on February 14, overtaking Sands in the race to become the city-state's first casino operator.

Genting Singapore, a unit of Malaysia's Genting Bhd , hosted a charity concert over the weekend, giving guests a glimpse of its almost-completed facilities, which include a Universal Studios theme park.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Anshuman Daga)

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