Hollywood-themed resort opens in Macau: Studio City offers family fun, launch features star-studded cast of De Niro, Scorsese and DiCaprio

Multibillion-dollar casino project launches with help of Hollywood stars as Macau looks to reinvent itself as a family-oriented holiday destination

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 4:32pm

Macau’s bid to reinvent itself as a mass-market, family-orientated gaming destination was underlined yesterday as its latest multi-million casino resort opened with a combination of Hollywood glamour and a bold statement of intent.

Movie directing icon Martin Scorsese lined up with living screen legends Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio as Melco Crown’s HK$3.2 billion Studio City development went live with the promise of tinseltown-tinged entertainment and – in a first for the world’s premier gaming hub – a casino floor with no VIP tables in sight.

The ambitious Hollywood-themed resort headed by Melco Crown CEO Lawrence Ho Yau-lung and his Australian billionaire business partner James Packer marks Macau’s most significant shift to date from VIP-junket dominated casino model to mass market, Las Vegas-style resort.

Underlining that shift is the fact that Studio City on the Cotai Strip is the first major development in Macau not to target VIP gamblers, amid a 16-month straight slump in gaming revenues and Beijing’s crackdown on corruption – which has scared mainland Chinese high rollers away.

The shift also reflects a collapse of the junket system in Macau, which has seen a number of operators – whose main role has been to recruit high rollers to casinos and make loans – either shrink or close down completely in the face of looming greater regulation and falling revenues. The move towards the mass market model was further emphasised by Melco Crown’s gaming table count, Studio City is opening with just over half the 400 tables it initially requested from gaming regulators.

An upbeat Ho, however, predicted a bright future as infrastructure linking the former Portuguese enclave to Zhuhai and Hong Kong coems online: “250 tables is a no-brainer for us… We are where we are and we are happy,” said the son of Macau’s octogenarian casino pioneer Stanley Ho Hung-sun.

Less than 10 per cent of Melco’s revenue is VIP revenue, a point underlined by Ho who added: “We steered away from VIP gaming tables a long time ago. In the last 10 years we always believed that the mass tables would be leading the Macau market.”

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Ho said the absence of tables targeting high-roller VIPs underlines its strategy of targeting China’s rising middle class consumers, who are eager to try new things and who are expected to take over as the main driver of Macau’s growth.

“We believe this is the future of China… The rise of the middle income earning bracket and the rise of the more sophisticated well-travelled customer.”

Ho said to expect to “leverage” with Macau Studio’s “good location,” next to the Lotus Bridge, which links Macau to Zhuhai’s island Hengqin.

Gaming revenues for Macau fell by 37 per cent this month marking 16 months of straight losses. Ho said at this point is hard to predict how long the downturn in Macau will go on.

He also said the under-construction Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, a planned light-rail system connecting the city to the mainland’s rail network and the opening of the Taipa ferry terminal would transform Macau.

“The bridge will be a game-changer Gaming change transformation is going to be the bridge,”said Ho.

“Infrastructure on this scale takes time. But in the short term the light railway is coming, and the Taipa ferry terminal will open soon… This will improve the access points to Macau.”

READ MORE: Macau casinos take out insurance policies after rise in hostage-taking over gambling debts

The projects would give the city a capacity to receive more than 31 million tourists a year.

“We believe in the long term and in the Chinese government,” Melco co-chairman James Packer said. 

Macau Studio City, a movie-themed resort, features a Batman flight 4D simulator ride, a figure-8 Ferris wheel, a Warner Bros. fun zone and a resident magic show.

Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and De Niro, famed director Scorsese and singer Mariah Carey attended yesterday’s opening to promote the short-film The Audition directed by Scorsese to promote Studio City. It is the first time that Di Craprio, De Niro and Brad Pitt - the only one missing yesterday - have starred in a film together.