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Venetian Macao aims to transform Chinese gambling enclave into full-fledged resort city

Venetian Macao aims to transform Chinese gambling enclave into full-fledged resort city

American billionaire Sheldon Adelson opened what he claims is the world's largest casino floor housed in Asia's largest building Tuesday, adding credence to this coastal Chinese city's claim to be a major gambling center.
Adelson and his wife Miriam inaugurated the US$2.4 billion (euro1.8 billion) Venetian by smashing a bottle of champagne against the front of one of the casino and hotel complex's gondolas at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The resort opened to the public later Tuesday, with its first batch of hundreds of visitors filing through the front door in an orderly fashion after Chinese firecrackers _ lines of red tubes _ were set off. Some guests posed for pictures under the golden dome ceiling just inside the resort's entrance.
Casinos like the Wynn and Adelson's Sands have already helped this small city in southern China surpass the Las Vegas Strip as the world's most lucrative gambling center.
Las Vegas Corp. Chairman Adelson aims to take a step further with the 10.5 million square feet (945,000 square meters) Venetian.
He hopes the complex will transform Macau from a gambling pit stop for Chinese tourists to a vacation and business convention destination, where visitors can spend a few days shopping, watching shows _ and rolling dice.
"Today is the beginning of what has been a dream of mine for some time _ to reproduce the capital of entertainment in Asia for Asians," Adelson said at a press conference earlier Tuesday.
Macau's casinos are currently scattered across the territory, which comprises a peninsula connected to mainland China and two outlying islands linked by a reclaimed strip called Cotai.
Adelson hopes his Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on Cotai will help launch a massive, concentrated resort area he calls the Cotai Strip, after its Las Vegas counterpart.
Las Vegas Sands claims the 10.5 million square feet (945,000 square meters) Venetian _ twice the size of the Las Vegas original _ is the largest building in Asia and the second largest in the world. Boeing Co. claims it has the world's largest building _ a plant in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington.
The Venetian boasts what it claims to be the world's largest gaming space of 550,000 square feet (50,000 square meters), housing 3,400 slot machines _ with room to expand to 6,000 _ and more than 800 gambling tables.
It has 3,000 rooms, a 15,000-seat sports arena, retail space for 350 stores, 1.2 million square feet (108,000 square meters) of convention space, fine dining and a Cirque du Soleil-produced show.
Adelson also plans to open more hotels under brands such as Four Seasons, Sheraton and St. Regis next door. In all, his Las Vegas Sands Corp., which also runs the Sands Macao on the Macau peninsula, plans to invest up to US$12 billion (euro8.8 billion) and build 20,000 hotel rooms on the Cotai Strip by 2010.
Opinions are mixed on whether he will succeed.
Some analysts believe Adelson is smart to broaden the range of tourists visiting Macau. The convention business _ a specialty of the Las Vegas Sands _ is a lucrative one, they say.
Las Vegas Sands President William Weidner said earlier that 44 major conventions have already been scheduled at the Venetian for the next two years.
He also said he expects the Venetian Macao to lengthen the average guest stay to three to four days from 1.2 days in other Macau hotels.
Others say it will take time to change tourism patterns in Macau.
Rob Hart at Morgan Stanley said Macau will never become a diversified travel destination like Las Vegas.
"It's going to be slow transition ... it's never going to happen to the same extent," Hart said.
There are also doubts about whether Western entertainment like Cirque du Soleil will appeal to an Asian clientele.
"It may be more useful to do an Andy Lau concert there than Cirque du Soleil," Gabriel Chan at Credit Suisse Hong Kong said, referring to a veteran Hong Kong actor-singer.
In an apparent attempt to show its commitment to meeting Chinese entertainment tastes, Taiwanese pop stars Chang Hui-mei and David Tao performed Tuesday as part of opening festivities. It wasn't immediately clear if the Venetian plans to seek them out as permanent acts.