Stanley Ho
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Glittering debut for Stanley Ho's retort

Stanley Ho

Tycoon hopes Grand Lisboa will keep rivals at bay

Billionaire Stanley Ho Hung-sun was beaming last night at the gala opening of the Grand Lisboa casino, his HK$5 billion answer to a wave of new competitors piling into Macau's booming gaming market.

Thousands queued in the streets around the golden bulb at the base of the 47-storey hotel tower, scrambling as the doors opened at 10pm for seats at one of the casino's 240 gaming tables and 480 slot machines.

The 85-year-old Mr Ho fired back at criticism that his company, Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM), was losing ground to rivals.

'We do better business than anybody in Macau,' he said. 'With the opening of the Grand Lisboa, naturally, I hope to see an increase.'

Official Las Vegas figures released yesterday show Macau has overtaken it as the largest gaming market in the world, with the Vegas strip's US$6.69 billion revenue last year being eclipsed by the former Portuguese colony's US$6.87 billion.

VIP guests including Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah and Secretary of the Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak-yuen attended the lavish opening ceremonies.

The new flagship in Mr Ho's gaming empire, the Grand Lisboa towers over its 37-year-old predecessor across the street. The five-storey glass-clad base, intended to resemble a giant Faberge egg, houses restaurants and 38,000 square metres of casino space. Its exterior shell is illuminated by 1.2 million red, blue and green LED lights, while 580,000 Swarovski crystals adorn inside walls.

The casino has six restaurants, including Michelin-star Italian chef Alfonso Iaccarino's Don Alfonso 1890.

The Grand Lisboa employs 3,000 staff and expects to use 15,000 decks of cards each day. Minimum wagers on the blackjack and baccarat tables have been lowered to HK$50 from HK$100, while HK$20 buys a spin of the roulette wheel.

The 258-metre hotel tower is still being built and will have 430 rooms. Shaped like a lotus flower, it will be Macau's second-tallest building.

Mr Ho's former dominance of the gaming market has been eroded by an influx of competition from new casinos owned by Las Vegas billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, and Hong Kong property tycoon Lui Che-woo.

SJM's share of the gaming revenue in Macau fell to 46 per cent last month, down from more than 70 per cent a year ago.