The refurbished VIP room at the end of a fourth-floor corridor at Casino Lisboa had raked in US$700 million for the month - double the average - and the champagne corks were popping. But this was in May last year. Within a few months the novelty had faded and competition set in. The Golden Palace VIP room, operated by Success Universe Group, has not been able to repeat these impressive earnings. High-roller gaming in Macau is still going strong, industry veterans say, despite the mainland's crackdown on gambling by officials and the Sands and Galaxy Waldo casinos' entries into the market. In such a competitive environment, VIP rooms cannot rely on renovations and perks to bring customers back. Operators must invest in building a network of customers fast, so that when the major attractions open over the next five years they will have a ready pool of clients to bring in. Competition will become cutthroat, says William Chan Wai-lun, executive director of Macau Success, the Hong Kong-listed flagship subsidiary of Success Universe Group. 'It is typical for a gambler to try another VIP room if he is not happy with one,' he says. 'You cannot lock the guest in and force him to go to your VIP room.' Operators are vying to have the VIP room that will be most successful at convincing gamblers to stay and spend. 'This is a tight race,' Mr Chan says. 'Run fast, build fast, and you will win the race. Waiting for the business to generate profits is not fast enough for us.' Companies with VIP operations have recently turned to the Hong Kong stock market to raise funds. K Wah Construction acquired Galaxy Resort. A-Max Holdings, which holds a stake in Greek Mythology Casino, is expected to announce today further expansion of its VIP rooms. Medtech Group, whose directors include Angela Leong On-kei - Stanley Ho Hung-sun's fourth wife - bought the Casa Real casino hotel. The urgency to raise funds explains why Macau Success loaned $50 million in March to the group's newest VIP room, King Seiner Palace at the Landmark Hotel. Macau Success is chaired by Sonny Yeung Hoi-sing, younger brother of Emperor Group tycoon Albert Yeung Sau-shing. He is a three-term member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. An eight-year VIP operator, Success Universe Group also runs the Regency and Dragon View rooms at the Marina Infante Hotel in Taipa. Macau receives some of the highest-stake gamblers in the world, Mr Chan says. The Golden Palace VIP room at the Lisboa allows a maximum bet of $2 million at its baccarat games. 'In Las Vegas, a US$150,000 maximum bet is already extraordinary,' he adds. While mainland Chinese gamblers constitute more than half of Macau's VIP gamblers, Mr Chan says another potential market is Southeast Asia. Before the handover, VIP clients came mostly from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, Mr Chan says. Southeast Asian gamblers were also a core market until the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997. 'Gamblers from Thailand and Indonesia have been occupied in the past few years rebuilding their financial prowess. When the new casino attractions are completed in 2006 and 2007, I expect them to return.'