Another Macau casino, and the punters flock in

Thousands queued in the streets last night for the grand opening of the US$583 million Crown Macau casino on Taipa Island, even as the launch of an attached 36-storey hotel tower was delayed until next month.

The first resort to be developed by Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, son of gaming magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and his partner James Packer, Australia's richest man, the Crown casino stretches over six floors of a cylindrical tower that mildly recalls the iconic rotunda of the elder Mr Ho's old Lisboa Hotel.

The smell of new leather filled the halls as punters flooded in when the doors opened at 7pm and jostled for seats at the casino's 220 gaming tables and more than 500 slot machines.

But much of the 216-room hotel section is still being fitted out, and will not open to the public until early next month. In the meantime, staff reserved rooms at other hotels, including the Wynn Macau, for some of the 1,800 guests invited to last night's gala opening event.

Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Later in the evening movie star Chow Yun-fat made an appearance before the start of an acrobatic performance by the Dragone group, whose artistic director Franco Dragone produced several Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas.

The Crown employs 4,000 people and is the first of three casinos totalling US$3.3 billion that Mr Ho and Mr Packer are developing in Macau via their Nasdaq-listed joint venture, Melco PBL Entertainment.

Originally planned as a Park Hyatt hotel, the project broke ground in December 2004 and underwent significant budget increases in the run-up to last night's opening.

The opening of the Crown brings the number of casinos in Macau to 26, adding fuel to a boom that last year helped the territory overtake the Las Vegas Strip as the world's largest gaming market. Three more large-scale casino hotels are set to open later this year, starting with the US$2.4 billion Venetian in August.

Gamblers' heaven

Macau, with 26 casinos, has overtaken the Las Vegas Strip as the world's largest gaming market

The number of gaming tables in Macau at the end of March 2,970

The number of slot machines 7,349