Singapore
Published October 11, 2006

Eighth Wonder tops with US$3.5b IR plan

Melco PBL to hold 24.5% stake in Sentosa IR venture

By ARTHUR SIM

IF IT was based on development investment alone, Eighth Wonder would appear already to have won the bid to build the Sentosa integrated resort (IR).

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New partners: Eighth Wonder's Mr Advent (centre) has Australia's Mr Packer (left) and Macau's Mr Ho in his corner

One of the three remaining bidders for the second IR site, Eighth Wonder yesterday revealed it would spend US$3.5 billion in the project, the largest amount so far.

Speaking to BT, Eighth Wonder chairman Mark Advent denied earlier reports that some of this investment would go into the making of a movie and a possible tie-up with film-maker George Lucas.

And the resort developer is unlikely to need movie magic, now that it has signed-on two of the most influential men in the Asia-Pacific's gaming industry, James Packer - son of the late Australian media and gaming mogul Kerry Packer - and Lawrence Ho - son of Macau gaming tycoon Stanley Ho. 'We have the strongest casino brand and hotel brands,' claimed Mr Advent.

Mr Packer and Mr Ho are already partners, through the joint venture company Melco PBL Entertainment. Together, they have the Crown Macau and City of Dreams resorts and casinos, with a third on the drawing board.

They were also partners in a bid for the Marina Bay IR, but withdrew shortly after meeting the deadline for the submission for probity checks.

Melco PBL will now hold equity stakes of 24.5 per cent of the Sentosa IR if Eighth Wonder wins, and is subject to probity checks again. But Mr Packer says he has no worries. 'I am buoyed by the fact that Melco and PBL have passed probity in both Macau and Australia,' he said.

On pulling out of the Marina Bay bid, Mr Ho said that although he did think the land price was 'hefty', it was more the emphasis on conventions business that was the determining factor. He said Melco PBL 'also wanted to focus on Macau at the time'.

Melco PBL's contribution to the bid is significant, not least because the Singapore government has said it hopes the IRs' casino component will attract high rollers from overseas. Mr Advent says that high rollers may account for as much as 50 per cent of PBL's gaming revenue.

Mr Packer would not reveal numbers but he said: 'If you look at the high-end customers at Crown (in Melbourne) and what Melco PBL is doing in Macau, add the numbers, and compare it to Genting's list of high-end customers, I am very confident that in terms of numbers and quality of customers, we will be very competitive.'

The late announcement of new partners is a surprise, not only because it requires the Singapore Tourism Board's approval, but also as it appears to have left Eighth Wonder's earlier partner, US gamimg operator Isle of Capri Casinos, out in the cold.

Isle of Capri will still hold a stake of 13.8 per cent (with Eighth Wonder holding the remaining 61.7 per cent) but it will be Melco PBL that will operate the casino, if it wins.

Running the show, however, will be Mark Advent. And he is eager to show he is not the one-hit-wonder who created the successful New York New York casino in Las Vegas, which he says, 'single-handedly transformed the Las Vegas Strip at a time when tourism figures had flattened'.

Mr Advent has now said his Sentosa proposal can bring in 15 million visitors to the Sentosa IR with concepts and ideas nothing like those offered by the other two bidders.

'In my opinion, Universal (theme park) is a 28-year-old idea. How will this be unique to Singapore? I think Singapore deserves something better than a 28-year-old idea. We are going to do something that no one has ever done before,' he said.