The world's casino: Macau overtakes Las Vegas Strip

HONG KONG, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Macau’s annual gaming revenues for the first time beat those of the iconic Las Vegas Strip in 2006, and new casino openings this year should cement the former Portuguese colony as the gambling capital of the world.

The only place in gambling-mad China where casinos are legal, Macau opened its doors to international gaming firms such as Las Vegas Sands LVS.N and Wynn Resorts WYNN.O when a gaming monopoly held by casino mogul Stanley Ho expired in 2002.

Gaming revenues in the Chinese enclave have climbed quickly in the past four years, surging 23 percent in 2006 to US$7 billion to overtake the US$6.69 billion of “gaming wins” notched up by the Las Vegas Strip -- a figure that was announced over the weekend.

With six new casinos scheduled to open this year, the hype surrounding Macau shows no sign of abating.

Las Vegas Sands is scheduled to open its giant Venetian Macao casino complex in the summer as the centrepiece of the Cotai Strip -- a “neon alley” of casinos, shopping centres, hotels and theatres often dubbed “Asia’s Las Vegas”.

Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson, the world’s 14th richest man, has said that his company will soon be a mainly Chinese enterprise, and quipped that Las Vegas should be called “America’s Macau”.

Gaming revenues for the whole of Las Vegas, including areas outside the main “strip” area, were still slightly higher than in Macau.

The arrival of foreign casino firms has fuelled a $24 billion construction boom and jaw-dropping gains in share prices for the handful of companies which offer investors a piece of the action.