Macau's newest casino opens its doors Sunday with high hopes that it will lure visitors from across Asia, with analysts saying it will further boost growth in the world's biggest gaming hub.
The HK$14.9 billion ($1.9 billion) Galaxy Macau, which boasts 450 gaming tables, 1,100 slot machines, and more than 2,200 hotel rooms, is the latest sign that gambling firms are betting large on the former Portuguese colony.
Macau hit a record $23.5 billion in gaming revenue last year, about 58 percent higher than 2009 and outpacing the Las Vegas Strip at least four-fold, according to analysts.
The Galaxy's opening Sunday comes days before the Sahara an iconic Las Vegas hotel which has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis to Frank Sinatra and the Beatles in the 1950s and 60s closes its doors for the last time as the US gaming market continues to struggle.
"This is a golden opportunity for us to open Galaxy Macau, we are very confident," Francis Lui, vice chairman of hotel operator Galaxy Entertainment Group, told a news conference Sunday ahead of a grand opening ceremony.
"We hope it will welcome visitors not only from mainland China but those from Asia as well," he said, calling the opening Macau's "biggest event" this year. The casino will open its doors to visitors at 5:00 pm (0900 GMT).
Galaxy currently operates the luxury StarWorld Hotel and Casino plus several other casinos in the gaming boomtown, whose revenue is driven largely by the millions of mainland Chinese punters and high-rollers descending on it each year, thanks to the country's surging economy.
But gaming operators in the territory have been aiming to polish Macau's former image as Asia's seedy gambling den, turning it into a Las Vegas style family entertainment centre with a range of non-gaming options and resorts such as Galaxy's sprawling gold-tinted complex.
Lying on a 550,000-square-metre plot on the glitzy Cotai strip, the resort also boasts three posh hotels, a rooftop wave pool, man-made beach and over 50 food and beverage outlets.
The new casino-resort marks the first foray of two prominent hotel groups into Macau Singapore's Banyan Tree Hotels will run 250 suites and 10 floating villas while Japan's Okura Hotels & Resorts Worldwide will run 1,500 hotel rooms.
Galaxy is one of six firms licensed to operate casinos in Macau, which was handed back to Beijing in 1999 and remains the only Chinese city where casino gambling is allowed.
Macau's no-frills gaming scene was monopolised by tycoon Stanley Ho for decades until it opened to foreign competition in 2002.
Since then, a stream of Las Vegas-based gaming companies flooded into the southern Chinese city, hoping to cash in on what promised to be a massive market of gambling-mad visitors from nearby Hong Kong and mainland China.
Analysts said Galaxy's property would likely continue to drive the growth of Macau's gaming business, likely to remain dependent on the Chinese market.
"We believe that gaming revenue in Macau could grow about 25 percent or more in 2011, a slower pace than last year because the industry is growing off a much higher base," ratings agency Standard & Poor's said in a recent note.
"Much of increase in revenue in 2011 is predicated on economic growth in China," it said, adding that nearly 83 percent of visitors to Macau in 2010 came from mainland China and nearby Hong Kong.
The Chinese government has worried about the vast sums of money flowing into the city's economy, while Macau officials have voiced concern about its gambling-dependent economy.
That runaway growth has continued even as regional rivals including Singapore open glitzy new casinos to grab a chunk of the massive Asian market, which some experts predict will eclipse the US gaming sector in a few years.