PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
POWER SCORE: 1,608
POSITION LAST YEAR: 8
CLAIMS TO FAME
- Macau leader of the Las Vegas Sands’ subsidiary generating majority of group EBITDA
- Experienced government and political operator with mainland China connections
- Extensive work in property development
Wilfred Wong says he’s busier than ever despite Grant Chum replacing him as Chief Operating Officer of Sands China. Wong remains Sands China’s President and boss on the ground in Macau for the Las Vegas Sands subsidiary that generated 59% of group EBITDA and 63% of net revenue last year.
There’s still plenty of work to do to maintain Sands China’s leadership in Macau, and that mission is more crucial than ever right now. In the age of COVID-19, Macau is the market with the best chance of returning to normal fastest for LVS, given the slow recovery in Las Vegas and the importance of conventions there and at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
The US$2.2 billion transformation of Sands Cotai Central to The Londoner as well as the conversion of the star crossed Four Seasons serviced apartments into 290 suites has continued throughout the COVID downturn. As customers return, Sands will begin rolling out more components of the reimagined property that includes 370 new suites at the St Regis Tower, also originally intended as serviced apartments, and revamping the previous Holiday Inn into the 600 suite Londoner Hotel plus additional MICE and retail space.
Apart from the conversion, Sands has also upgraded gaming areas and created more suites at The Parisian, which has shown surprising appeal beyond its mid-market target.
With all of the changes, Sands China will still have more than half the guest rooms in Cotai, though when SJM Holdings opens Grand Lisboa Palace, the Sands share will fall to 49%. It has even greater dominance in retail with nearly 2 million square feet (186,000 square meters), all of it interconnected in the heart of Cotai.
The rooms, retail and trio of themed properties remain vital to Sands’ mass market appeal. Sands China derived 58% of its profit from mass tables last year, with another 26% from hotels and mall operations. Venetian Macao remains the top casino attraction in town for tourists, with additional wow factor from Parisian’s half-scale Eiffel Tower and Londoner’s attractions to come. The upgrades in room product are designed to strengthen Sands’ appeal to premium mass customers, the sweet spot for all casino operators that’s forecast to lead COVID recovery and future growth.
Once these projects are done, there may be little space left for Wong to utilize his property development chops.
That’s where his other prior experience becomes relevant. Wong began his career in the Hong Kong government in 1975, moving up the civil service ladder and, by 1985, becoming a member of key bodies associated with Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. He worked with mainland counterparts on key issues including the Basic Law governing the relationship between the city and the mainland – Macau has its own Basic Law that took effect with its 1999 return to Chinese sovereignty – and the actual handover procedures. Following Hong Kong’s transition, Wong served as a deputy to China’s National People’s Congress from 1997 to 2013.
With Macau’s gaming concessions due for retendering in 2022, Sands China can use Wong’s skill in navigating sensitive political matters. The current trade tensions between the US and China may abate but American gaming concessionaires in Macau will be far more controversial in the next round than they were in 2002, when Macau welcomed the industry expertise and credibility US operators brought. In these changed times, Sands China is fortunate to have Wong on its side.
For the full list of 2020 Asian Gaming Power 50 winners, click here.