Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Genting makes U.S. inroads


In 2018, on Genting Hong Kong’s 25th anniversary, President Colin Au summed up the company by saying, “We come from Malaysia, a small country, but we go out to the world. We open our eyes and learn new things.”

That may be a bit of an understatement. Genting, which launched in 1971 with a hilltop hotel near Kuala Lumpur, has become a multinational gaming giant.

The Lim family business is actually a trinity, made up of Genting Hong Kong (cruise lines and Resorts World Manila); Genting Singapore (Resorts World Sentosa); and Genting Malaysia (casinos and iGaming operations in Europe, the UK and elsewhere).

The company didn’t get a toehold in the United States until 2010, when it beat out domestic operators Hard Rock and Penn National for the right to build and operate a VLT parlor in Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs. With a customer base of more than 8 million on its doorstep, Resorts World New York City, at the historic Aqueduct Racetrack, soon became the most successful slots casino in the nation.

According to Frank Fantini, founder of Delaware-based Fantini Gaming Research, Genting has three primary strengths—experience, money and scale—and has no interest in playing small. “They’re succeeding with giant projects,” Fantini said. “Why would they fool around in Cincinnati?”

Ben Lee, managing partner of Macau gaming consultancy iGamix, agreed, adding, “They’re a cash-flow monster, and don’t really need high levels of debt to finance their expansions. Thus, they’re able to afford to take long-term positions on their projects.”

For instance, Miami. In 2011, Genting bought about 30 acres of prime real estate in the South Florida resort hub, including the iconic Miami Herald building on Biscayne Bay, with a plan to build a casino resort there. It was the cornerstone of what the company hoped would become the Macau of the Americas.

Formidable opposition, chiefly from the powerful Seminole Tribe, the entrenched pari-mutuel industry and the Disney Company, has kept that goal out of reach. But as Fantini observed, Genting is “patiently maintaining a presence in Miami, if that day ever comes.”

The cash-rich company could top itself next year with Resorts World Las Vegas, now in development on the northern end of the Strip, at the site of the former Stardust Casino. The resort involves an investment of $4.3 billion (at last tally). The massive complex, sprawling across 88 acres, will have 3,500 hotel rooms and a 110,00-square-foot casino with slots, table games and high-limit areas.

Original renderings of the property, first conceived in 2016, showed an uber-Asian theme, with pagoda-like silhouettes, oversized lantern fixtures, and gleaming red and gold facades, in what seemed a clear invitation to the Asian high roller. That look was later soft-pedaled to “Asian-inspired touches”—a smart move, according to Lee.

“No Asian is going to go to Vegas and stay in a resort that screams, ‘Asians here!’,” he said. “What attracts Asian players are resorts that meet the service standards they’re used to—compare any five-star hotel in Asia versus the ones in the U.S., and you’ll get an idea.”

Genting’s new, sleeker design faced pushback from Wynn Resorts, which claimed the modified curved-tower exterior was too similar to Wynn Las Vegas and its sister property, Encore, right across the street. Days before heading to court, the rivals settled a trademark infringement lawsuit, with Genting promising more design refinements.

That said, Resorts World will likely take another cue from its Strip neighbor, said Fantini. Just as Wynn taps into its Macau player base to bring Asian VIPs to Las Vegas, so will Genting cross-market to customers in Malaysia, Singapore and, yes, New York.

“It’s a huge property, and they’re not going to fill it with a handful of whales from China,” he said. “They need thousands of people in that property every single day. They’re going to have to appeal to a broader base—mainly the affluent North American market,” including Canada and Mexico.

Bob DeSalvio, a veteran of the U.S. gaming industry who was recently appointed president of Resorts World New York, said the company “has put it best foot forward in the U.S. It was really strategic, where they put their resources. We’ve developed Resorts World New York City for the future, and hope someday to get live table games there.”

Part of that long-term plan is a $400 million expansion that includes a 400-room hotel, which will open this year. All of it is located just minutes from JFK International Airport, which is the busiest international passenger gateway in North America.

It’s all interconnected, said DeSalvio. “Look at the entire portfolio, in Singapore, in Manila. We have an incredible resort outside Kuala Lumpur, with 10,000 rooms. We have multiple casinos in the UK. We’re developing Resorts World Las Vegas. The company is very, very strong all over the world. The idea is to take this collection of assets and make sure we can handle customers no matter where they travel.

“Our long-term goal is to be able to take care of the customer anywhere in the world at one of our Resorts World products.”

Genting last year also took Empire Resorts private, giving it control over Resorts World Catskills.

The group's next big gamble may be in Japan. The group recently got shareholder approval to invest in a $10 billion project. It has chosen to focus on Yokohama, after dropping out of bidding in Osaka.

 

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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