Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sands says IR will be up and running by April

THE first guests at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (IR) will be able to check in, have a meal, attend a convention and gamble by the middle of April next year, at the latest.

That was the new deadline revealed by Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson yesterday.

That means about 1,000 hotel rooms, several eateries (including three of its six celebrity-chef restaurants), part of the convention facilities and the casino floor will have to be ready by then, or the operator risks failing to secure its casino licence.

The rest of the project will open in phases before the end of next year.

Sands training ‘early next year’

Mr Adelson also had an update for new employees, some of whom were in the news last week waiting to hear when training for their new jobs as dealers and croupiers would start.

Originally they had been told it would be October, but yesterday, the Sands top man said it would be early next year.

To date, about 500 employees have started work at the IR, out of the estimated 14,000 needed to run the entire resort. Of these, 85per cent are Singaporeans, a figure that is expected to dip to about 70per cent because of a lack of local interest in entry-level positions, according to the company.

The project has already been hit by several delays.

When Las Vegas Sands won the bid in 2006, the resort was to be ready by the end of this year. But in July this year, the opening date was pushed back to the first quarter of next year, end-March at the latest.

The delays were put down to heavy rain, the bankruptcy of a couple of sub-contractors, and a sand embargo.

There was also a shock reshuffle of top management in August, with two of its key executives being fired.

At the same time, project costs have ballooned from early projections of US$3.6billion to the current US$5.5 billion (S$7.7 billion) price tag.

But with the resort’s three 55-storey towers framed by the window of the Ritz Carlton suite where he met the media yesterday, the combative Mr Adelson was ready to dispel any suggestion that the project was in trouble.

The 76-year-old billionaire said: ‘I wish you guys would get off the delay thing. The delay thing is nothing.’

It is not going to open until the time is right, he said.

He maintained that the IR is still on track to earn US$1 billion a year, well in excess of analysts’ projections of between US$400 million and US$800 million, and could see a return on its capital investment in five years.

‘If you told me to make a list of a thousand risks, I would not have the embargo of sand from Indonesia on that list. Everything happens, but so what? We are in this for the long term.’

Indonesia banned the export of sand to Singapore in early 2007, which drastically pushed up concrete prices. Things improved six months later, when imports started from Vietnam and elsewhere.

The embargo also hit Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), the second of two IRs being built here, but the Genting-led project remains on track for an early 2010 opening, with some 600 dealers already trained.

Mr Adelson said he was ‘happy’ about RWS opening early.

‘You don’t get a gold star on your forehead for being the first one to open. We are going to open when it’s right.’

He was equally frank about his dealings with the Singapore Government.

‘Sometimes they are a pain in the behind’ – but he said he was glad it was that way. ‘I’d much rather have that in dealing with the Government, combined with the reliability and predictability and transparency of this Government.’

On whether the Government’s ban on casino junkets – whereby a promoter brings in a group of high rollers in exchange for a cut of the turnover – would deter the big spenders from turning up in Singapore, he shot back: ‘Look at me. Do I look stupid? Do you think we put five and a half billion dollars here because we didn’t check the market..? Trust me, there will be more high rollers than you can shake a stick at.’

He was bullish also about Sands’ projects in Macau. Construction work that was suspended after falling revenue is expected to restart within five months.

And Mr Adelson expects the first phase of its Cotai strip project to open by June 2011.

What’s opening

By mid-April: About 1,000 hotel rooms, parts of the convention centre and shopping area, restaurants (including three celebrity chef eateries) and casino
By mid-June (60 days later): The rest of the resort, including the Sands Sky Park, with the exception of the Art Science Museum and the two theatres
By September: One theatre
By end-2010: The Art Science Museum and remaining theatre

Source: Straits Times, 22 Dec 2009

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