IAG 2006-01 Jan - page 20-21

Who’s adapted?
When SandsMacau opened its doors inMay 2004,many claimed that SJM’s
casinos would have to improve their offerings or lose out to the glitzy
Americans.WhileVegas has indeed forcedMacau toup its game, the enclave
has alsomadeVegas adapt,with So claiming,“I think they learnedmore from
us thanwedid from them.”
When Sands opened its doors to the public, the things thatmost set it apart
were its windows, providing gamblers a visual connection with the outside
world.Chinese, reputed tobe themost hard-coregamblingethnicgroup, are
known to loseall senseof timeas theygamble fordayswithno sleep,gulping
down bottles of thick black chicken essence to fortify themselves. None of
Macau’sother casinoshavewindows.
Sands’ spin-doctors (the same who, no doubt, spread that now forgotten
chandelier boast) claimed the exclusion of natural light is ameans tomake
gamblersdizzy,andkeepthemgamblingawayoblivioustotheirsurroundings.
They saidSandsheraldedaneweraof openand fairgambling inMacau.Well,
the spin-doctors offeredno explanationofwhy thewindows havenowbeen
coveredwith semi-opaquedrapes.
WhenSandsopened, it consciously sought to tap theneglectedmassmarket
- knowing threequarters of StanleyHo’s revenue is derived fromhigh-rollers
the American concessionaires would like to lobby as much as possible to
narrow thegap so theywouldhave a level playingfieldhere.”He adds,“They
are subjected to their home regulations,while they are also complyingwith
regulations here.At the presentmoment we have an advantage becausewe
areonly subject toone setof regulations.”
Still, So asserts that STDM’s goal is not to trounce the competition,but rather,
to secure its niche in themarket.“Wewould like to complement each other,
wearenot afraidof challenges.Wearenot afraidof competition.Wehaveour
ownmarket thatwe can excel in, andwehaveour ownnetwork. I think each
operatorwill get their fair share in themarket indue time.”
STDM also remains focused on its turf, and So emphasises the need to
“consolidate our position here”ahead of the arrival of ambitious new casino
resorts fromWynnResorts and LasVegas Sands by 2007. SJMhas no interest,
for now at least, in bidding for casino licenses elsewhere in Asia, and So
dismisses the threat from Singapore toMacau’s future gambling revenues.“I
think they [Singapore] just want to add in that small gambling element into
their entertainment business tobemore competitive in the region.They see
the success story of Macau andDisneyland inHong Kong.They do not want
to lag behind.Theywant to add a little gambling element into their tourism
sector. I feel Singaporewill notdevelop thatgamblingelement inabigway.”
smokers on your wardrobe. Now, the Lisboa has made the entire first floor
massgamingareaastrictno-smokingzone,restrictingsmoking to thesecond
floor. SJM has also renovated the gaming areas, and added glitzy new room
suchas theCrystal Palace.
Bybringingmore tables toMacau, Sands has eased congestion at the Lisboa.
The crowds arenowamoremanageable two-deeparound the tablesof both
theLisboaandSands.TheLisboahasspruced itselfup,andofferedpromotions
includingacashprize luckydraw.What’smore,asaMacau landmark,theLisboa
will alwayshave itsdraw.It isotheroldSJMestablishments,suchas theJai-Alai,
whichhave seen steep fall-offs inbusiness since theSandsopened.
So points out that “when they [the US based gambling licensees] submitted
theirbids,theysaid theywouldbuildconventionhalls,exhibitioncentres,”and
otherdazzling leisureandentertainment facilities.However,“once theysettled
inMacau, they saidnobody is looking for that,and theyall built casinos, table
games.”SandsMacau is scalingdown its famousbuffet tomakeway formore
tablegames,and“evenWynnheredon’t haveabig theatre like theone in the
Bellagio,”heargues.“We’ll have towait and see if they reallybring in thesebig
Las Vegas performances.” For the time being, installing big LED screens and
runningmore advertisements is themainway inwhichSJMhas followed the
leadof SandsMacau.
gambling inVIP rooms,while ordinary folk had to jostle for position three or
five-deep at the big/small tables. The minimum bet at the Sands’ big/small
tables started out at amere 50 patacas (US$6.25), compared to the Lisboa’s
100 patacas (US$12.50). A newmarket was opened up, but it was one the
Sands -merelyVenetianMacau’sprovisional foray into thecity -wasunableor
unwilling todealwith.Now, theminimumbet at theSands’big/small tables is
ahefty300patacas,while theLisboa retains100pataca tables,making itmore
low-roller friendly.Onlywhenmoregaming floor spaceopens can the Sands
hope to realisticallybring inpeoplewhomay still beputoffby the100pataca
minimum.
Sandshadalso tried tokick-startMacau’s slotmachinebusiness toattract the
massmarket.Slotmachinesaccount for close to70%of total gaming revenue
in Nevada,while theymake up closer to 2% of revenue inMacau. A cursory
walk along the idlebanks of slots at theSands,however, indicates that they’ll
have todomore than just install machineswith cute Chinese illustrations to
convincegamblers here to feed the“hungry tigers” (as slots are referred to in
theCantonesedialect).
Oneof thedrawbacks of the Lisboaused tobe that after half anhour on the
floor, your clotheswould reek of cigarette smoke,while themore up-to-date
air circulation system at the Sands mitigated the impact of Mainland chain-
Personnel Chat
Lisboa’s croupiers are clearly older, on average, than their counterparts at Sands
Macau.Some canbedownrightmoody,whileothers offer grandmotherly advice.
Someof thebaby-faceddealers at theSandsoccasionallywrongly total blackjack
hands, so keep track and alert them if themiscounting is not in your favour.The
oldbatsat theLisboamaywellbe incapableof smiling,butbrashyoungcroupiers
grinning as they turn up that improbable card to trump the player’s hand could
well get anashtrayorHK$100,000chip to thehead.
Another difference is that while there is a chance you could end up having an
entertaining conversation andgetting sage advice from a croupier at the Lisboa,
those at the Sands are instructed by management to avoid conversation with
customers.
Thequalityof conversationcanvaryasmuchasyourbankroll,but that’sagamble
youcandecide to take.
Ambrose So admits that the service provided by Sands’ employees is more
consistent, explaining that, “They are small, we are big. We have had people
working formany years, and theirs are all new recruits.They can have a new set
of standards.Our standards change as time requires, so theremay be some staff
laggingbehind.Butwealsogive them refreshment courses to retrain them.”
Askedwhether STDMworries theworsening labour crunchwillmake recruitment
more difficult, especially given aggressive recruitingby the likes ofWynnMacau,
So replies: “We are recruiting people on a routine basis. We do not put up
advertisements as grand asWynn.Thewhole issue iswhether you feel secure in
your job.SJM’semployeeshavenodoubtabout their job security,but if theygo to
anewenvironment, it’sa littlebituncertain for them.
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