10 emerging casino destinations

© Caesar’s
/ Source: Forbes Traveler.com

What happens in may usually stay in Vegas. But when it comes to the casino industry, what happens in Vegas often inspires gaming around the world. The success of the new Vegas model—one that incorporated gambling, , fine dining and other high-end amenities’ has sparked investment and development in cities around the world. More and more cities are now rolling the dice with full-service, Vegas-style resorts.

Nowhere can the fruits of vertically integrated entertainment be seen more clearly than in Macau, China. In early 2000 the usually stingy government granted two additional licenses: Las Vegas Sands and Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts won the right to develop big, multi-billion-dollar resorts. The current properties are naturally very casino-focused, but they’re also being used as a platform to build out more multi-use resorts. This summer, the Sands Venetian hotel, casino and shopping complex is set to open with 3,000 hotel rooms, more than 300 shops, over one million square feet of meeting space, a 15,000-seat auditorium and, of course, more than 5,000 slot machines and 700 table games.

“It's the fastest growing emerging casino gaming market in the world,” said Jonathan Galaviz, partner at Globalysis, a research and tourism consulting firm. ’Some $25 billion U.S. dollars is committed to development in Macau. We expect their 2007 revenues to come in at $8 billion.”

In 2006, Macau surpassed Las Vegas in gaming revenue, and with almost 20 new hotels slated to openin the next four or five years, that boom is expected to continue. Much of is fast on Macau’s heels. recently loosened its regulations, and now several resorts are slated to open by 2009; Wynn Resorts is considering opportunities in the ; and industry insiders are buzzing about Vietnam and Japan.

And don't think the Europeans aren’t watching. Beyond the storied baccarat rooms of Monte Carlo, some up-and-coming destinations include Ciudad Real, Spain, where Harrah’s is planning to open a Caesar’s, and Manchester, , where the government is loosening gambling restrictions. Likewise, most of Latin America only has slots, but the Park Hyatt in Argentina’s wine country may be reversing that trend with its casino, luxury spa, restaurants and meeting space.

“There’s been a dramatic change in the industry in the last ten years,” said Frank Fahernkopf, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. “If we looked at the financial statements from MGM Mirage 10 years ago, we would find that 70 percent of the revenue came from gambling. Today only 40 percent comes from gambling. Now every great chef in the world has a restaurant in Las Vegas. Any store along Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue is in Las Vegas. The great golf courses and spas are in Las Vegas. Entertainment in Las Vegas is not just limited to gaming.”

And it’s not just international resorts that are taking notice of the Las Vegas model. Long-standing gambling destinations like Atlantic City are adding plenty of glitz and glamour. Pushing aside its image as a place where grandma used to bring her roll of quarters, the Boardwalk is getting a new sheen.

“The old saw used to be that the average stay in Las Vegas was three days and the average stay in Atlantic City was eight hours,” said Fahrenkopf. “You got on a bus, got your plastic cup and played the slots and then left. The Borgata changed that. It’s been a tremendous success and that’s forced others to improve their product.”

The city’s Borgata, which opened in 2003, continues to raise the bar; last year the billion-dollar resort added in restaurants tied to celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay. And the city is stepping up its game as well, investing in one of its biggest building booms. Harrah’s, which owns Caesars Forum in Vegas (the highest-grossing retail sales space per square foot in the world), is opening high-end shopping on a smaller scale in Atlantic City. Golf is exploding as well: facilities are buying existing golf courses or building new ones. ’You’re going to see an entirely new Atlantic City within the next five years,’ Fahrenkopf said.

Casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi are also getting a makeover. It needs one. Before Hurricane Katrina, there were 13 casinos from Gulfport to Biloxi; most were off-shore boats attached to land and were destroyed in the storm.

“They were like floating barges,” said Fahrenkopf. “Some of these barges were lifted up and moved a mile inland. The rebuilding process is going on. It’s a much different rebuilding. They’re picking up on the Vegas model.”

In the wake of Katrina, the Mississippi government also changed some of the regulations, allowing land-based casinos for the first time. In December 2005, the Isle of Capri became the first land-based casino to open in Biloxi. There are still infrastructure problems within the state that make getting around difficult, but experts predict Biloxi will be a booming gambling town within the next few years.

From the re-emergence of Biloxi to the makeover of Atlantic City to the international draw of Macau, what happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. We’ve compiled the 10 emerging casino destinations from around the world so you can hear the cling, cling, cling of the slots wherever you go.