Though it has been a challenging year for Sheldon Adelson, the bullish 75-year-old US casino tycoon is confident he has enough aces up his sleeve to revive stalled projects in Asia.
The construction of new casinos in Macau and Singapore has been delayed after the global financial crisis hit both economies hard and Adelson's company Las Vegas Sands ran into funding problems.
AdvertisementOnce ranked the third wealthiest American by Forbes Magazine until the meltdown wiped out a substantial chunk of his fortune, he was forced to inject one billion dollars of his own money into Las Vegas Sands.
But the self-made billionaire says the experience accumulated since he first went into business as a 12-year-old will help him put his gaming empire back on a winning streak, and industry analysts are giving him decent odds.
"I intend to rain on critics' parade," Adelson told a Singapore news conference last week in reference to bleak economic forecasts.
"If we are in the down portion now, we can look forward to going back (up)," he said, describing himself as a "gut variety, plain vanilla entrepreneur."
Adelson has invested heavily in Asia in recent years, mainly in the southern Chinese territory of Macau, where a pre-crisis gaming boom saw the former Portuguese colony overtake Las Vegas in terms of overall revenue.
One industry analyst said Adelson may have taken huge risks in pursuing his Asian expansion but it might pay off eventually.
"There is no question that the company has for quite some time taken a very strategically aggressive approach to the Asian market place," said Jonathan Galaviz, a partner with Nevada-based consultancy Globalysis.
"Yet at the same time, one has to have respect for that because the Asian market place is going to be the growth place for the next 10-20 years."
The Asian Development Bank says the region's economic slowdown appears to have touched bottom and it is likely to be the first to climb out of the global slump, although some analysts warn that threats to sustainable growth persist.
Adelson said he was aiming to restart the stalled projects in Macau later this year once Las Vegas Sands completes a fund-raising exercise for 3.5 billion US dollars.
A sale or public listing of the Macau assets are among the options being explored to raise the money, including two billion dollars needed to complete the projects in the Chinese territory, he said.
"We are shooting for a restart of the Macau project before the end of this year," said Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands.
The delayed projects are part of the company's ambitious 12-billion-dollar building plan in Macau on a reclaimed strip of land known as Cotai Strip.
Squeezed by the global credit crunch, Las Vegas Sands announced in November that work on sites five and six on the Cotai Strip would be temporarily stopped until financial market conditions improved.
Sites five and six include an 1,800-room Sheraton hotel and three casinos.
The Vegas firm was also forced to fire up to 11,000 mainly construction staff as work ground to a halt on the projects.
Like in Macau, Adelson's Singapore project has also run into delays and cost overruns due to shortages of materials and labor, issues that are beyond his control, he said.
A 5.5-billion-US-dollar casino and convention complex, Marina Bay Sands, is now targeted to open in either January or February 2010, instead of end-2009 as originally planned.
"So this is not a long delay. It's a relatively short delay and the whole purpose of it is because it's impossible to finish every square meter simultaneously," Adelson said in his typically feisty manner.
"It's not as though you are a conductor of a philharmonic and you just take your wand... and you tell everybody get finished on time exactly to the minute."
Given the gaming sector's huge potential, particularly in Macau, the region is a key market in the long term for casino operators, analysts said.
"Macau is an important market for gaming operators due to its size. It is a much larger market compared with the US," said Joe Poon, a Hong Kong-based associate with Standard and Poor's Rating Services.
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