INSIDE GAMING: Taiwan beaches ready for action

19 January 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The prospects for a beachfront casino resort in Taiwan that would be managed by Las Vegas casino veteran Larry Woolf received a boost.

Taiwan's Parliament voted last week to legalize gambling on the island nation's offshore islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu. The move allows the local governments to hold casino referendums.

Woolf, chief executive officer of the Navegante Group casino management company, is a director of Amz Holdings, which controls a 27-acre beachfront parcel on Penghu where a resort and casino complex has been designed. Woolf's group has spent some four years putting together the parcel and making plans for the development in anticipation that Taiwan would authorize gaming.

"The decision now places the company well ahead of any other operator without land on the island, in a large new market which is untapped and ideally positioned with developing links to China," Woolf said.

He may have competition.

Lawrence Ho, the son of Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho and the CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, is looking for his own piece of the Taiwanese action.

He told AFP news service he would like to expand into Taiwan, but only if it didn't upset the government of Mainland China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

"Our relationship with China is key to us, we wouldn't want to do something to piss them off," Lawrence Ho said.

Melco Crown is a Nasdaq-listed joint venture with Australian billionaire James Packer. It owns one of Macau's six gambling licenses. Melco operates the Crown Macau and is opening the $2.1 billion City of Dreams on the Cotai Strip this year.

***

In a vote closer to home, citizens in Black Hawk, Colo., overwhelming approved expanded gaming last week.

Colorado voters in November approved allowing citizens in the state's three gaming communities to change their gambling laws.

Black Hawk casinos can raise the maximum bet from $5 to $100, will be open 24 hours and offer roulette and craps. In exchange, the casinos will commit 20 percent of the revenues from the changes to the their home city and Colorado's community college system. The changes begin in July.

Macquarie Capital gaming analyst Joel Simkins said expanded gambling will attract new customers to Ameristar Casinos' Black Hawk resort, which opens a $240 million, 536-room hotel tower this year.

"Many of the Denver population, we dub 'Black Hawk rejectors,' haven't gambled in the market given its low stakes and limited nongaming amenities," he said.

Cripple Creek approved gaming expansion this month. Central City residents will vote on the issue Tuesday.


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