Casino giant Wynn suffers top-level jolt as boss of just-opened US$4 billion Macau casino resort quits

Shares in Steve Wynn’s gaming empire slump as industry watchers predict a further spending slow-down around a landmark visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang later this month

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 1:51pm

Hopes that Macau’s gaming industry was on the brink of a mass-market-led revival have taken a fresh hit after the man in charge of one of its most costly and high-profile casino resorts quit just five weeks after it opened.

Gamal Abdelaziz resigned as president and executive director of Wynn Macau Ltd on Friday “in order to pursue other opportunities”, the casino firm said in a Hong Kong Stock Exchange filing.

Abdelaziz – who is widely known as Gamal Aziz – was in charge of operations at the luxury US$4.2 billion Wynn Palace hotel-casino resort on the Cotai Strip, which opened on August 22 this year.

He will be replaced by Ian Coughlan, who was previously in charge of the company’s Wynn Macau resort. Coughlan now will be responsible for the entire operation and development of both the Wynn Macau and Wynn Palace resorts.

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The top-level departure sent Wynn shares tumbling and suggests that the US gaming giant – whose Macau operations have been geared principally to VIP and premium players – has found the switch to mass-market gaming difficult as the world’s richest gaming destination attempts to clean-up and re-engineer the industry it has relied on almost exclusively for decades and diversify into other economic areas.

It comes just days before Premier Li Keqiang visits the city for the fifth Macau Forum – a major conference on economic and trade co-operation between China and the world’s Portuguese-speaking nations due to be held on October 11 and 12.

Some gaming industry analysts believe Li’s visit could have a further negative impact on revenues in the city, which has endured a two-year financial meltdown resulting from the twin effects of China’s slowing economy and President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown, which has scared off many of the big-spending VIP gamblers who fuelled its success.

“Things might quiet down during mid-October because of the expected visit to Macau of China’s Premier Li Keqiang,” Macau-based Union Gaming analyst Grant Govertsen told Bloomberg.

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“Historically, visits to Macau by high-level PRC officials have had short-term negative impacts on gross gaming revenue and we expect this same dynamic to occur in October,” he added.

Aziz was hired by casino tycoon Steve Wynn in January 2013 on the express understanding that he would drive the development of Wynn Palace. Before joining Wynn, he had spent 12 years as a senior executive in MGM Resorts International’s hospitality division.

A Wynn press release read: ‘’Mr Gamal Aziz resigned his post as president of Wynn Macau Ltd. Mr Aziz was brought in to lead the development and successful opening of Wynn Palace Cotai. Having completed that assignment, Mr Aziz resigned with the thanks of the board of directors, which expressed its gratitude to Mr Aziz for his significant contributions to the company.”

Anthony Lawrance, managing director of Intelligence Macau, a local market-research consultancy, said: “Wynn Palace has obviously opened into a challenging market, and the management team has their work cut out. But with the right focus, it should start to outperform in time.”

Wynn shares dropped 2.5 per cent to US$98.04 in New York, and closed down 2.4 per cent in Hong Kong.