Macau opens Hollywood-themed casino resort as slowdown bites

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

DiCaprio finds joy in Macau project with De Niro, Scorsese.

MACAU (AP) — Leonardo DiCaprio says being able to work with his two cinematic father figures on a short film commissioned for the opening of a Macau casino resort was “a slice of heaven.” He spoke in the Asian gambling mecca ahead of Tuesday’s debut of “The Audition,” which also stars Robert De Niro and was directed by Martin Scorsese, who also attended the press briefing. “To be able to have scenes with Bob and being directed by Marty is a small slice of heaven for me as an actor,” DiCaprio said. MACAU — China’s world-beating gambling hub is getting a taste of Hollywood glamour as its newest casino resort makes its debut today (Oct 27) with a glitzy grand opening that masks turmoil behind the scenes. He described the two as like his “fathers in the world of cinema.” The 15-minute film’s premiere is part of the star-studded lineup to launch Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd.’s Hollywood-themed Studio City resort in Macau.

The typically stoney-faced mogul could barely contain his joy at a press conference attended by the stars, laughing as De Niro delighted their audience with jokes. Photo: AP Billionaire James Packer has revealed his late father, the media mogul Kerry Packer, forged the initial partnership with Macau casino magnate Lawrence Ho which he believes has given Crown Resorts the chance to cash in on a rising Chinese middle class over the next few decades.

The casino’s ability to draw such star power attests to the rising influence of the special Chinese region, which has grown into the world’s top gambling market. Page Six previously reported that the trio were each paid a cool $17million for their time, with the entire production setting Melco-Crown back around $96million.

Mr Packer said his father sowed the seeds for Crown’s push into Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, in 2004 as China looked to open up its only legal gambling jurisdiction to international competition. But following last week’s announcement of Crown’s new 90-story tower on Southbank, Packer today told media the construction of the Barangaroo casino was his priority. “In my business life there is nothing more important than Crown Sydney. Scorsese described the film as “reality-based with some humor.” The plot has DiCaprio and De Niro invited to Macau by Scorsese to compete for the same part in a movie. They were conceived at a time when a seemingly endless wave of money from wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers was flooding into the former Portuguese colony, turning it into the world’s biggest gambling market. They are all set to walk the red carpet for the gala opening event, which will include a four-song performance from Mr Packer’s girlfriend Mariah Carey.

It’s going to be the most expensive building ever built per square foot and we want to make it very special,” Packer said. “I think (NSW Premier) Mike Baird is doing a good job, and I caught up with him last week but it wont be open until the end of 2020 at least,” he said. “Nothing is a certainty, but if you build something and you try and make it the best, and you really do try and make it the best, and when it goes over budget you say okay we’ll let it go over budget because we have to, to make it the best, you get nervous,” he said. The Audition, set at Packer’s resorts in Manila and Macau, was described by director Brett Rattner as a fusion of short film and branding, and was the future of advertising. “Let’s assume that we can run the ads for three years, it’s 11 million bucks a year for what will be I think the most famous marketing campaign in the world.” Mainland Chinese high rollers are staying away amid a persistent economic slowdown and President Xi Jinping’s continuing crackdown on corruption, both of which are crimping lavish spending.

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. The downturn has cut into profits at US casino operators such as Las Vegas Sands Corp and Wynn Resorts, which have multibillion-dollar projects in the pipeline. “With the anti-corruption campaign and the political sentiment, a lot of wealthy people feel going to Macau is very risky. 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.

They don’t want to be seen on the radar screen,” said Mr Tony Tong, founder of Pacific Financial Services, a consulting firm that advises Asian casinos and junket companies. And there are not that many.” Mr Packer also revealed Melco Crown has yet to recoup its sunk investments in Macau by instead pouring profits back into new casinos which he said is at odds with the other five concessions operating in Macau. He added that if that figure was correct and the film was used over three years, that would equate to around an annual $11m spend for the company, which he hinted was good value. Mr Packer confirmed its Barangaroo casino on Sydney’s harbour would not open until late 2020 and said he was concerned it was falling behind in the development schedule. “It is important that we now get started on it,” he said. “Since we announced Sydney we have announced Las Vegas and Melbourne. Since opening in May, Galaxy has grown its market share among the six Macau operators, even though it posted a 29 percent revenue drop for the third quarter.

Melco Co-Chairman Lawrence Ho said all of the new casino’s gambling tables will be given over to so-called mass market players, with none for high-roller VIPs. Photo: Bloomberg Lithium provides 450 companies including Telstra, eBay, McDonalds and the Commonwealth Bank with the software they use to chat with customers online through Facebook, Twitter and internet chat rooms. Now Lithium chief executive Rob Tarkoff says it’s testing a new service called Integrated Profile that can create a hyper-detailed portrait of every single person who opts in, based on their public interactions. The companies lend gamblers money in VIP rooms and collect debts when they return home, allowing high-rollers to get around restrictions on how much money can be taken outside mainland China. The system is built on top of Klout, which has generated 700 million profiles by trawling through 15 billion pieces of information every day across everyone’s social media accounts – whether it’s been knowingly uploaded or not.

China’s economy “will no longer be the same dominant force to keep high roller clients in abundant supply” for Macau’s casinos, the company said in its annual report. But the new beta program that Telstra and other global brands have signed up for will let customers add their interactions across the entire Lithium network to their profile. Adding to the industry’s troubles, another junket company, Dore Entertainment, reported to police last month that an employee allegedly defrauded at least US$12.9 million from investors, who have held daily protests. This means everything from your love of GoPro cameras and holiday plans with Virgin America to complaints about Spotify (all of whom are Lithium customers) can be tracked, adding nuance to the picture that companies paint of you: the human. “Knowing what your most valuable customers are interested in, things completely outside of their relationship with you, allows you to reach a new level of intimacy with them,” he said. “You provide them rewards for things that they do for you, provide personalised content that might be relevant to them.

It’s just using their profile in a way that builds more of a relationship as opposed to a transaction.” One example could be if Telstra has a relationship with the procurement manager at a certain company, who in turn expresses an interest in ballet. Chief Executive Steve Wynn also lashed out at the Macau government’s policy of reining in rampant casino growth by capping the annual increase in gambling table numbers by 3 per cent.

The telco’s sponsorship of The Australian Ballet means it could use this tailored information to offer tickets to a performance rather than the generic rewards currently on offer. Mr Wynn’s exasperation was on behalf of Melco, which said earlier this year it was hoping for at least 400 tables in order to avoid defaulting on its US$1.4 billion loan.

Macau’s upcoming resorts will emphasise entertainment and shopping over gambling as casino operators bow to authorities’ desire to shed the city’s image as a sleazy, vice-ridden gambling haven to become a family friendly global tourist destination. “The table cap is the single most counter-intuitive and irrational decision that was ever made,” Mr Wynn told analysts on a conference call. “The reason that these extraordinary non-gaming attractions exist is because the damn casino is the cash register.” AP Retail giant Woolworths highlighted the importance of loyalty programs on Monday when it re-launched its member program with an expected cost of $500 million. Big brands across the company are trawling their customer data in an effort to gain fresh insights with ANZ revealing that it combs through customer spending records to work out when they’re travelling and where.

But a major question for any company harvesting the vast troves of information available on every person that touches the internet is whether or not the profiles go far beyond the ‘freak line’ of our comfort levels. Big data marketing gained a bad name after US retailer Target used shopping habits and data analytics to predict when customers were pregnant based on the products they put in their baskets – before sending them brochures that included baby products. This was seen to breach what has been termed the “uncanny valley” of marketing – where people are creeped out once they realise just how much brands know about their every living moment.

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