Pattaya bids to become casino site

The resort town of Pattaya has found stronger support than nearby Koh Lan Island as both vie to become the site for a controversial casino venture.


But an MP from the province called for caution yesterday, saying a thorough study should be conducted on the matter. Sonthaya Khunpluem, secretary general of the Chat Thai Party, called for a “symposium” to give the idea “serious study”.


Pattaya city manager Pairat Sutthithamrong said he strongly favoured establishing a casino in Chon Buri province to boost its economy and tourism.


Pairat preferred having it in Pattaya rather than Koh Lan. He said there should be regulations to control the access of locals and foreigners to the casino.


He suggested an arrangement in which the government would keep an agreed percentage of the profits from the gaming operations, which would be run by private investors.


Chatchawan Supachanon, chairman of the Thai Association of Eastern Hotel Businesses, said he agreed with the plan of having the casino in Pattaya. If it was located in Koh Lan, its construction would ruin pristine beaches, he said.


Yotthong Siwaralak, a security expert from Bang Lamung district, said it was acceptable for the casino to be set up anywhere. If strict rules were observed, legalised gambling would not have an adverse impact on youth, he claimed.


The semiautonomous government of Macau is looking to copy Nevada’s gaming regulation model, sources said.


The move surfaced after the Macau government tapped two prominent Las Vegas casino developers, Desert Inn owner Steve Wynn and The Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson, to build and operate resort-style casinos in the Chinese enclave.


Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho recently wrote a letter to UFABet Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander asking for a round of discussions between Macau officials and Nevada regulators, Neilander said. The meetings would be designed to help the Macau representatives write tough new casino regulations.


“I believe the government of Macau is serious about instituting sweeping changes,” said Neilander, who noted that serious changes in the way Macau casinos are supervised are necessary.


Wynn and about 20 Wall Street investment bankers were in Macau this week as part of the investment bankers’ due-diligence checks of Wynn’s planned initial public offering of as much as $408.3 million of Wynn Resorts stock, sources said.


The offering would partially fund Wynn’s plan to spend $1.83 billion to build Le Reve on the Desert Inn site and to invest at least $497.8 million to build at least one hotel-casino complex in Macau.


Wynn is still in his Securities and Exchange Commission quiet period after his June filing of his intent to sell the stock. His employees say the megaresort developer isn’t talking to the news media until the quiet period’s over.


But informed sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Wynn and the bankers met Wednesday with Macau government officials, including Ho.


The bankers asked Ho tough questions about his plans to improve Macau’s casino regulation, sources said.


Chinese organized crime influence is considered pervasive, with loan sharks and prostitutes openly soliciting business in Macau’s 11 casinos, owned and operated by the former casino monopoly holder, Stanley Ho.


Nevada regulators worry about the prospect of state operators setting up shop in Macau’s $2 billion gambling market.


Neilander said Macau officials visited Nevada in 1999 for round-table discussions with regulators. Many new or evolving casino destinations meet with Nevada officials.


“Macau wouldn’t have selected Nevada operators if it didn’t want to change its regulatory regime,” one source who attended the Wednesday meeting said. “Edmund Ho is serious about this effort.”


At the same time as Wynn and the Wall Streeters were touring Wynn’s planned Macau casino site and meeting government officials, a 16-member delegation of Macau officials began a trip to Las Vegas.


“Apart from observing the gambling industry and facilities in Las Vegas, the delegates will also meet with the representatives from tourism, civil affairs, health sector, universities and customs in Las Vegas to exchange opinions and to understand the management and operation of the above fields,” noted the Macau government’s English-language Web site.


Macau, only a 10-minute helicopter trip from Hong Kong, was governed by Portugal for 442 years before it was returned to China in December 1999. It has a high level of political and legal autonomy, similar to the arrangement used in Hong Kong since it was returned to Chinese sovereignty from Britain in 1997.