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(photo credit: Kin Cheung/AP)
American billionaire Sheldon Adelson brought a taste of Venice to Macau on Tuesday, as singing gondoliers and exploding red firecrackers opened a massive new casino and hotel resort, a bid to transform the southern Chinese gambling enclave into a top vacation spot.
Adelson and his wife Miriam inaugurated the $2.4 billion Venetian Macao Hotel Resort by smashing a bottle of champagne against the front of one of the complex's gondolas at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that also featured harlequins performing on stilts.
The resort opened to the public later Tuesday, with the first of hundreds of visitors filing in, treading on thick champagne colored carpet and taking in the fresco paintings on the walls.
Some guests posed for pictures under the golden dome ceiling just inside the entrance to the resort, which claims to house the world's largest casino floor.
"This place is world-class. I'm really impressed by how big it is," said A.K. Lin, a visitor from China's eastern Fujian province.
Casinos like the Wynn and Adelson's Sands have already helped this small city in southern China surpass the Las Vegas Strip as the world's most lucrative gambling center.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Adelson aims to take a step further with the 945,000 square meter Venetian.
He hopes the complex will transform Macau, also spelled Macao, from a gambling pit stop for Chinese tourists to a vacation and business convention destination, where visitors can spend a few days shopping, watching shows - and rolling dice.
"Today is the beginning of what has been a dream of mine for some time - to reproduce the capital of entertainment in Asia for Asians," Adelson said at a press conference earlier Tuesday.
Asked by Israel's Channel 10 if he planned to do something similar there, Adelson said, "I've tried for 18 years and I've given up."
Macau's casinos are currently scattered across the territory, which comprises a peninsula connected to mainland China and two outlying islands linked by a reclaimed strip called Cotai.
Adelson hopes his Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on Cotai will help launch a massive, concentrated resort area he calls the Cotai Strip, after its Las Vegas counterpart.
The Venetian boasts what it claims to be the world's largest gaming space of 50,000 square meters, housing 3,400 slot machines - with room to expand to 6,000 - and more than 800 gambling tables.
It has 3,000 rooms, a 15,000-seat sports arena, retail space for 350 stores, 108,000 square meters of convention space, fine dining and a Cirque du Soleil-produced show.
Adelson also plans to open more hotels under brands such as Four Seasons, Sheraton and St. Regis next door. In all, his Las Vegas Sands Corp., which also runs the Sands Macao on the Macau peninsula, plans to invest up to $12b. and build 20,000 hotel rooms on the Cotai Strip by 2010.
Las Vegas Sands President William Weidner said earlier that 44 major conventions have already been scheduled at the Venetian for the next two years. He also said he expects the Venetian Macao to lengthen the average guest stay to three to four days from 1.2 days in other Macau hotels.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.