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Proposed Miami casino could deal blow to Vegas

9 Dec 2011

By Howard Stutz
MIAMI, Florida -- A Malaysia-based gaming company plans to fill a proposed Miami casino complex with would-be Las Vegas gamblers, siphoning an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion in annual gaming revenues away from the Strip.

It's still unclear whether Genting Americas, a subsidiary of the Genting Group from Malaysia, will even have an opportunity to build its $3.8 billion waterfront hotel-casino in downtown Miami. Florida lawmakers are debating whether to legalize casinos in the state, and experts have placed odds on the passage of a casino bill at less than 50 percent.

But casinos in Miami pose the greatest threat to Las Vegas and the Strip's recovery after years of economic turmoil, analysts said.

Credit-Suisse gaming analyst Joel Simkins said Miami is a "compelling market" for casino development and could hurt Las Vegas, attracting business from the East Coast and other key areas that feed the Strip.

"I think Miami could take a decent amount of East Coast business from Las Vegas," Simkins said. "Someone who might take three or four trips a year to Las Vegas could divert one or two of those trips to Miami."

Genting operates Resorts World Sentosa, one of two hotel-casinos in Singapore, and the recently opened Resorts World New York, a slot machine casino attached to New York City's Aqueduct Racetrack. Genting does not have a casino in Las Vegas and is not licensed in Nevada.

In a presentation to Florida lawmakers during a hearing on the casino legalization issue, Genting officials said Resorts World Miami would target customers from Latin America and the Asia Pacific region.

But Genting also would look at what it termed the "Las Vegas Export Market," which the company defined as 47 percent of Las Vegas's 37 million annual visitors. Genting said those visitors live closer to Miami than Southern Nevada, and the potential is worth $4 billion in gaming revenue.

Genting told Florida lawmakers its Resorts World Miami could attract at least 20 percent of those visitors to the Biscayne Bay project, which would have six hotel towers totaling 5,200 rooms, 50 restaurants, a retail development and other entertainment options. The project would have two casinos, a 550,000-square-foot primary casino and a 250,000-square-foot secondary venue. The larger of the two would be the largest casino in the world.

In an economic study that was part of the proposal, Spectrum Gaming Group predicted Genting's casinos could generate $4.5 billion to $6 billion in annual gaming revenues. In 2010, Strip casinos generated $5.7 billion in gaming revenues.

In a separate letter to Florida lawmakers, Las Vegas-based Union Gaming Group subsidiary Union Gaming Analytics endorsed Genting's market-wide revenue projections.

"We believe the Genting's assumptions on the various market drivers are reasonable," Union Gaming Group Principal Bill Lerner said in the letter. Among the three items cited in the endorsement was "the potential for incremental gaming play generated by purpose-based visits from domestic and international tourists."

How much a Miami gaming scene would cut into Las Vegas's business is up for debate.

Vince Alberta, vice president of public affairs for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said in an emailed statement that the Strip is more than just gambling.

"While Las Vegas will always be viewed as the origin of modern-day gaming, visitors have many more amenities and attractions to select from today," Alberta said. "The fact that less than half of resort revenue in Clark County comes from gaming is evidence that Las Vegas has evolved into a world-class destination that offers more than one reason to visit."

Alberta said visitors come to Las Vegas for the "total experience offered."

The prospect of casinos in Florida has attracted much of Nevada's casino industry. Representatives from Las Vegas Sands Corp., MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp., and Wynn Resorts Ltd., have visited Florida to explore gaming expansion prospects.

Company representatives said they didn't think two or three Florida casinos operated by Las Vegas-based gaming companies would hurt the Strip.

"Obviously, we're not in the business of cannibalizing our own properties," Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said. The company, which is exploring a hotel-casino and convention complex in Miami, operates The Venetian and Palazzo on the Strip.

"We believe Miami is a complementary market for our convention business," Reese said. "Our guys in Florida also believe there should be a slower approach in Florida, maybe starting with one or two casinos and moving forward."

MGM Resorts spokesman Alan Feldman said there was room for growth in attracting visitors from South America and Latin America. Miami could serve as a gateway for tourists bound for Las Vegas, where MGM Resorts operates 10 Strip hotel-casinos, including Bellagio, MGM Grand Las Vegas and CityCenter Aria Resort & Casino.

Feldman said MGM Resorts "has no interest" in replicating the business plan put forward by Genting.

"There is an East Coast market, but in our view, Las Vegas continues to operate a unique product for anyone from Asia, Latin America or anyone from the Northeast," Feldman said. "A couple of casinos in Miami is not going to be the same."

The argument might be all for naught, but Genting already has spent roughly $450 million for the real estate without knowing whether Florida would approve casinos.

There is strong opposition to casinos from theme park operator Disney, which is worried about the impact gaming in Miami might have on Orlando's convention business, and the Seminole Indian tribe, which operates the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. Both groups have strong representation in the Florida statehouse.

"They are vigorously going to defend their position," Simkins said. "In the end, we just don't know if Miami could support three megaresorts."

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