HONG KONG (AP) — The Chinese arm of Wynn Resorts Ltd. said it received approval on Wednesday for a new casino in the Cotai district of Macau, the world's most lucrative gambling market.
Wynn Macau Ltd. said the government of the southern Chinese gambling enclave published formal approval of a land transfer, paving the way for construction to begin on the 21 hectare (51 acre) site.
U.S. billionaire Steve Wynn, the founder, chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts, said the Cotai development is the "single most important project" in his company's history.
The company gave no other details about the project's approval, which has been long awaited by investors.
In its 2011 annual report, Wynn Macau said it plans a casino-resort on Cotai with 2,000 hotel rooms and space for conventions, shops, entertainment and restaurants, pending government approval. The budget and completion date were still being worked out.
The report also said the company paid a 500 million pataca ($62.6 million) deposit in December following its acceptance of a draft land contract. The company needs to make eight more semiannual payments of 130.9 million patacas ($16.4 million), with the first due six months after the contract is published.
Wynn already operates another casino on peninsular Macau. The new resort would be its first in Cotai, an area of reclaimed swampland joining two islands that is the site of all the city's big new casino projects. Rivals such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Galaxy Entertainment Group already operate resorts there.
Galaxy announced last week that it's doubling the size of its flagship resort in Cotai in a $2.1 billion expansion. Sands China Ltd., the Macau arm of Las Vegas Sands Corp., opened its third Cotai resort in April.
Macau, a former Portuguese colony and the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, has boomed since the government ended a four-decade gambling monopoly in 2002. Gambling revenues rose 27 percent in the first three months of 2012, after rocketing 42 percent last year to $33.5 billion, more than five times the amount earned by Las Vegas Strip casinos. More than 70 percent of Wynn Resorts' 2011 revenue came from Macau.
Wealthy high-rolling gamblers from mainland China account for the bulk of casino revenues but the government wants to broaden the economy and attract more middle class visitors by encouraging development of more non-gaming attractions.
Analysts expect Cotai casinos to benefit from growing numbers of middle-class visitors drawn to shopping and other attractions not found at the aging, seedy gambling parlors on the Macau peninsula.
Wynn is the world's third-largest casino company by revenue. The Wynn Macau casino resort, which opened in 2006, and Encore extension, which opened in 2010, have 1,008 hotel rooms, more than 490 gaming tables, 930 slot machines and 11 poker tables.
The approval comes as Wynn is locked in an unrelated legal dispute with Japanese tycoon Kazuo Okada following a company investigation that found Okada violated U.S. anti-corruption laws.
Okada was Wynn Resort's single largest shareholder but the probe's findings prompted the company to forcibly take back his shares, a move that Okada is fighting in court. Wynn Macau ousted Okada from its board in February.
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