October 27, 2015 / 2:56 AM / 4 years ago

Melco opens $3.2 billion casino with bet on Batman to revive fortunes

MACAU (Reuters) - Batman and Wonder Woman are just some of the superheroes casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd is deploying at its new $3.2 billion casino in Macau, which opened on Tuesday in the midst of a sharp downturn for the Asian gambling playground.

U.S. actor Leonardo DiCaprio (L-R), James Packer, co-chairman of Melco Crown Entertainment, director Martin Scorsese, Lawrence Ho, chief executive officer of Melco Crown Entertainment, actor Robert De Niro and producer Brett Ratner, pose for photos after a news conference for the short film "The Audition" in Macau, China October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Mariah Carey headlined a star-studded opening ceremony for the Hollywood-themed Studio City resort, Melco Crown’s third in the southern Chinese territory, the only place in the country where casino gambling is legal.

The opening ceremony was attended by top Macau government officials, including Chief Executive Fernando Chui and representatives from China’s liaison office in the enclave.

It featured acts including acrobatic and jazz performances as well as a screening of The Audition, a multimillion-dollar advertorial for Melco, produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Robert De Niro.

Studio City represents a break from the other 37 casinos operating in Macau. It has no VIP baccarat lounges and will focus instead on mass-market casual gamblers, in a sign of the times for the world’s largest gambling hub.

Macau’s gaming revenues have slumped to around four-year lows as China’s economic growth has slowed and corruption crackdown deter high-rollers. 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.

Studio City is the second resort to open in Macau this year after Galaxy Entertainment Group opened its Broadway casino and resort extension in May.

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.

Studio City’s non-gaming elements were the main reason for the allocation, said Lionel Leong, Macau’s secretary for economy and finance. The government granted Galaxy 150 tables earlier this year and an additional 100 last week.

Since opening in May, Galaxy has increased its market share among the six Macau operators, even though it posted a 29 percent revenue drop for the third quarter.

Union Gaming analyst Grant Govertsen said Galaxy was benefiting from strong growth in its mass segment, even though it remained vulnerable to another slump in VIP revenue due to its reliance on big-spenders.

Melco, by contrast, is more positioned towards the non-VIP sector, a strategy its latest casino is set to reinforce.

Editing by Stephen Coates and David Goodman

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