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Macao Resort-Casino Deal Finalized - 2002-06-24

American gambling mogul Steve Wynn has finalized a deal with authorities in Macao to build a lavish resort and casino on the Chinese territory. Macanese officials have high hopes of turning the tiny enclave into a major tourist destination in Asia.

Mr. Wynn made local history Monday, signing a deal to bring Las Vegas-style glitz and glamour to the tiny Chinese enclave.

Mr. Wynn's official entry into Macao's lucrative gambling industry ends the four decade long monopoly held by Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho. Mr. Ho's nearly dozen casinos attracting thousands of high rollers a month from around the region has been generating two thirds of Macao's tax revenues.

But the casinos have also spurred the growth of numerous massage parlors and saunas, giving the territory a seedy nighttime reputation as a haven for prostitution and Chinese organized crime.

That unwanted image convinced Macao's chief executive, Edmund Ho, to open up the industry.

In February, the government awarded new licenses to Mr. Wynn and Sheldon Adelson two giants of the gaming industry in Las Vegas. Mr. Wynn built the empire that eventually became MGM Mirage and Mr. Adelson built the billion dollar Venetian Hotel, which attempts to recreate the Italian city of Venice in the middle of the Nevada desert. Macao gave the third gaming license to Stanley Ho as a condition of his compliance with the deregulation.

Macao is the only place in China where casinos are allowed to operate and the government appears to be determined to change the industry to widen the territory's appeal beyond hard-core gamblers.

In neighboring Hong Kong, where many people go to Macao to gamble, the idea of turning Macao into the Las Vegas of Asia is getting mixed reviews. One frequent visitor, housewife Chan Ai-foon, says the territory could become a more fun place to visit with the added attractions. She says she looks forward to the change.

But university student Keon Lee believes organized crime syndicates, sensing huge money-making potential, will try to muscle in further into the industry and increase crime. "We already have enough gambling problems as it is and I don't trust the government to control more access to casinos," he said.

Macao was a Portuguese colony for 442 years before it was returned to China in 1999. Like Hong Kong which Britain handed back to China five years ago, Macao operates under a political arrangement dubbed "one country, two systems," which is intended to give the territory a high level of political and legal autonomy.