Mass market push in Macau as Paris-themed mega resort opens

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Macau (AFP)

Casino giant Las Vegas Sands launches Macau's latest resort Tuesday, outfitted with a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower, as it bets its fortunes on mass market tourists flocking to the gambling enclave.

A corruption crackdown by Chinese president Xi Jinping and an economic slowdown since mid-2014 drove away many mainland high-rollers who had propped up the VIP sector in semi-autonomous Macau -- the only part of China where it is legal to gamble.

The former Portuguese colony has struggled to recover its footing ever since as it comes under pressure from Beijing to diversify away from gambling.

But August saw gaming revenues end a some two-year slump, with analysts putting the rally down to a new raft of mega resorts trying to entice mass market gamblers to compensate for the hole in the VIP sector.

Sands' $3-billion resort, The Parisian, opens its doors Tuesday evening, boasting 3,000 rooms, a water park and a 1,200-seat theatre -- the latest in a slew of pleasure palaces promising more than just gambling.

While the venue is expected to host more than 400 gaming tables, Sands is selling the venture as an "integrated resort" complete with street entertainers and Paris-inspired shops.

It is the second launch by Las Vegas stalwarts in a matter of weeks, after the $4 billion Wynn Palace -- home to a giant lake, musical fountains and cable cars, as well as gaming tables -- opened in August.

Recent launches by Galaxy and Studio City have also upped the non-casino element, including everything from river rapids to an elevated figure-of-eight ferris wheel.

The push to attract mass market visitors seems to have worked, according to analysts, with monthly gaming revenue for August rising 1.1 percent to 18.84 billion patacas ($2.36 billion), compared to the same month in 2015.

But accumulated revenue for the year until August fell 9.1 percent at 144.39 billion patacas, compared to the same period in 2015.

Analysts believe the market has now bottomed out and that Macau will reap the benefits of the resort openings in the second half of 2016.

Macau overtook Las Vegas as the world's casino capital in terms of revenue after the sector was opened up to foreign competition in 2002.

It still leads its US counterpart despite the downturn.