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Macau casino makes a showy splash, but will punters come?
AFP - Thursday, August 12
MACAU (AFP) - – A Macau casino is making a splash with a watery new entertainment spectacle -- but the jury is still out on whether punters come to the betting-mad Chinese territory for anything other than gambling.
A media preview Wednesday of a new aquatic acrobatics show at the City of Dreams casino featured a dizzying mix of gymnastics, martial arts, dance, swordplay and stunts.
With gambling all but banned in China, visitors from the mainland and Hong Kong spend most of their time in Macau at its myriad casinos, enabling the former Portuguese colony to outpace Las Vegas in gambling revenues.
But Macau has bigger ambitions, aiming to join the Nevada city and Singapore to the south as a hub for all-round entertainment with gambling thrown in.
In one of many stunts in the vast "House of Dancing Water" show, men plunge from the top of a purpose-built arena into pools holding 3.7 million gallons (14 million litres) of water, enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools.
Billed as the world's largest water-based show, it features evil queens, a heroine wearing a soaking white negligee, beefy bodyguards, and a hunchback with pointy shoes splashing around in multi-tiered pools of water.
But past attempts to reinvent Macau as a venue for something more than gambling have made little impact, leaving questions as to whether this latest extravaganza costing 260 million US dollars will also find itself becalmed.
Last year, Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson complained that ticket sales for the Cirque de Soleil show ZAIA at his Venetian hotel in Macau were "disappointing".
The world-renowned act, which usually plays to capacity crowds, was the linchpin in the attempted reinvention of Macau.
"Showbiz in Macau is in its infancy," Davis Fong, director of the University of Macau's Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming, told AFP.
A key hurdle is that Macau's 23 million annual visitors stay an average of 1.5 days, less than the average three to four night stay in Las Vegas.
However, Fong said more recent data suggest that visitors are beginning to stay longer, more like two days.
"One show -- Cirque de Soleil -- was not enough to arouse attention from customers. But with two shows, Macau is becoming a more significant entertainment hub," he said.
Aaron Fischer, gaming analyst at brokerage CLSA in Hong Kong, said the House of Dancing Water show "will no doubt be very impressive".
"But they may have a difficult time getting mainland customers to pay 50 to 200 dollars" for a ticket, he said.
Others are also betting that Macau can attract a more diverse clientele.
The ritzy Ponte 16 resort -- half-owned by gambling tycoon Stanley Ho -- has paid about one million US dollars for Michael Jackson memorabilia at auctions in New York, Los Angeles and London in the past year.
The resort paid 350,000 US dollars for Jackson's left-handed glove, worn when he performed his first "moonwalk" dance in 1983, as the centrepiece of a gallery dedicated to the late pop star.
Developers have also restarted a plan to build a version of the Playboy Mansion in Macau.
A survey released in June at Macau's Global Gaming Expo suggested Asia's gaming market could eclipse America's in as little as three years, as hubs such as Macau attract the region's growing legions of rich.
Singapore's first casino opened in February and includes Southeast Asia's only Universal Studios movie theme park, as the city-state bids to ramp up its tourist appeal for families as well as serious gamblers.
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