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Harrah's Bets on Pizzaz

14 Mar 2006

by Chris Jones

LAS VEGAS -- The world's largest casino company is betting on a mix of Roman splendor and Hollywood pizazz to power its quest to conquer Singapore's lucrative gaming and tourism markets.

Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment on Monday said its best-known brand -- Caesars -- will accompany its proposal to develop the Asian city-state's first casino resort.

The planned development along the Marina Bayfront would also include iPort, a 1 million-square-foot "urban theme park" featuring movie-themed attractions created by Academy Award-winning film director James Cameron.

"It's going to be difficult for (a competing bidder) to bring more to the Marina Bayfront," Gary Loveman, Harrah's chairman, chief executive officer and president, said during a press event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

It's too soon to put a total cost on the resort, Loveman added before quipping, "But I don't think it's going to be cheap."

Land alone would cost the winning bidder $700 million.

The Singapore Tourism Board in April asked Harrah's and Keppel Land, a Singapore-based developer, to submit joint proposals for two integrated resorts.

The companies are pursuing separate developments at the Marina Bayfront and Sentosa Island, sites Singapore's government has identified for resort development. Their initial plans have focused on the Marina Bayfront, whose request for proposal period ends March 29. A winner is expected to be announced by June.

Sentosa Island's proposal period begins soon and is expected to close approximately four months after the Marina Bayfront bid is awarded.

Besides Harrah's-Keppel, others vying for the Marina Bayfront site include MGM Mirage in partnership with CapitaLand, Southeast Asia's largest developer; Las Vegas Sands Corp.; and a joint bid from Singapore's Genting International and Star Cruises.

Loveman said he's confident iPort will push his company to the forefront. Flanked by Cameron and Craig Hanna, creative director with Thinkwell Design & Production of Burbank, Calif., the trio spent nearly an hour detailing iPort's amenities.

The interactive park would feature five separate areas inside a 16-story tower, each linked by walkways and mobile "pods" that circulate from floor to floor. Two massive video "cyclones" would display images within a common "media canyon" stretching from floor to ceiling.

Each area would have a distinct -- and changeable -- theme to ensure one iPort visit is seldom the same as another.

Cameron and Hanna raised several potential themes, ranging from the wonders of nature to the history of Singapore. Cameron's 1986 hit "Aliens" is a likely subject, as is, curiously, his 1997 tragic love story "Titanic."

A recreated dining room from the doomed ocean liner would offer "the ultimate date venue," Hanna said as video images showed patrons riding through a recreation of the ship's exploding boiler room.

Re-enactments of the tragedy, which killed nearly 1,500 passengers and crew in April 1912, would entertain parkgoers every few minutes, Hanna added.

Cameron said other films, from Hollywood to India's "Bollywood" studios, would be considered for iPort, as would video games and Asian culture including kung-fu flicks and Japanese anime.

Other Harrah's-Keppel partners include Philadelphia-based SMG, which signed on to run a convention center, and Singapore's Conference & Exhibition Management Services, which brings more than two decades' expertise in Pacific Rim trade shows.

Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre will jointly promote Singapore as a global convention destination, while Anschutz Entertainment Group's AEG Live Division would manage Caesars Singapore's entertainment venues.

Earlier this month, Merrill Lynch analyst Sean Monaghan said Singapore's government has probably decided which company will develop the Marina Bayfront, according to Bloomberg News.

Bidders were in talks with the government for more than a year, even before the city-state lifted its ban on casinos in April 2005.

"The winning bidder will provide the lowest execution risk to the Singapore government," Monaghan said at the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

Singapore hopes to attract 17 million visitors by 2015, more than double its current level.

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