Las Vegas Sands

Sands denies Zhuhai plan approved

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am

Proposed resort and convention complex on Hengqin Island still subject to government clearances, says casino developer

Las Vegas Sands Corp, the world's largest casino developer by market capitalisation, denied a report claiming it obtained a long-delayed approval from Beijing to build a US$2 billion resort and convention complex on Zhuhai's Hengqin island.

In a statement issued yesterday, Las Vegas Sands maintained that 'the project remains subject to government approvals', but that 'in a positive step forward' the Zhuhai city government had formed a special co-ordinating committee to advance the resort project. Executives previously have indicated that the project enjoyed support from municipal and provincial governments.

The company was responding to a research note issued on Wednesday in New York by an analyst at Wall Street brokerage Jeffries & Co citing unidentified executives as saying the Hengqin project had received final approval from the central government and would break ground before Lunar New Year next month.

The report sent Sands shares soaring 11.3 per cent to an all-time high of US$102.81 on Wednesday trading in New York.

The company has earmarked more than US$15 billion for casino-related projects in Macau and Singapore and plans initially to invest about US$400 million during in the 18 months after breaking ground on the non-gaming resort in Zhuhai, which is due to include convention facilities, hotels, holiday villas, a golf course and marina.

Investment on Hengqin could rise to as much as US$2 billion in the next five years, and up to US$10 billion in the next decade, Las Vegas Sands president William Weidner said in November last year.

'The approval process has reached the final stage and is expected to be finalised by the end of this year,' Mr Weidner said then.

The 67 square kilometre, largely undeveloped Hengqin Island is three times the size of Macau and is separated from the enclave only by a 200m stretch of water. A six-lane bridge links the mountainous island directly to Macau's Cotai Strip, where Las Vegas Sands is spending between US$9 billion and US$11 billion building casinos, shopping plazas and resort hotels with more than 19,000 rooms.

When Las Vegas Sands executives and the governor of Guangdong, Huang Huahua, first announced the Hengqin project at a meeting in San Francisco in October 2005, executives indicated they hoped to break ground by summer last year.

The proposed convention and holiday resort was embraced early on by Guangdong and Zhuhai officials under the auspices of a pan Pearl River Delta economic co-operation.

Las Vegas Sands executives have tabled proposals to mainland officials that include forming a cross-border zone at Hengqin, comparable to a bonded area, where visitors could travel freely between Macau and the island.