Sands' Adelson still bullish on Las Vegas

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, majority owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp LVS.N, expects his new Las Vegas Strip resort, the Palazzo, to do booming business despite signs of a weakening U.S. economy because of its upscale focus.

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp, speaks in front of an image of the $1.9 billion Palazzo Resort during a news conference in Las Vegas, Nevada January 18, 2008. Las Vegas Sands is the parent company of the Palazzo and Venetian. The Palazzo and Venetian complex represents the world's largest integrated destination resort, with 7,128 hotel rooms and 2.3 million square feet of meeting, convention and exhibition space. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

“We’re marketing to the premium customer and conventions,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Adelson, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said his goal while planning the adjacent Venetian Resort -- Sands’ first Las Vegas casino-hotel -- was to avoid depending on middle-market America because that segment would be vulnerable to economic swings.

“People who have money are always going to have it ... There are certain luxuries in life people don’t want to give up,” said Adelson, who is listed at No. 3 on Forbes magazine’s most recent list of the richest Americans.

Together, the two Sands resorts have more than 7,000 hotel rooms, making them the largest hotel complex in the world. The resorts also adjoin the Sands Expo and Convention Center, allowing the company to offer one-stop shopping for group meetings and conventions.

The company is also planning a second convention center near its existing Strip operations.

By combining “back of the house” operations for the two hotel properties, Sands aims to maximize its return on investment, Adelson said.

Adelson said Sands’ 7,000 hotel rooms still account for only a fraction of the total Las Vegas inventory.

“Even after 9/11 we only saw a 20 percent drop in attendance ... With 50,000 attendees, a 20 percent drop doesn’t affect us,” he said.

The company plans to reproduce its model of a casino resort integrated with meeting space and entertainment options around the world, particularly in Asia.

“We will see opportunities in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Macau and Singapore,” Adelson said.

Adelson has bet big on Macau, the Chinese gambling mecca, with the opening last year of the 3,000-room Venetian Macao. The launch of that high-end resort followed the company’s success with its Sands Macao casino, which opened in 2004.

Sands is pushing forward with a range of Macau-related projects including hotel/condo developments and a get-away resort on nearby Hengqin island, although government approval for some of them is taking longer than anticipated.

Adelson said he expects Sands to hold a 60-percent share of the Macau casino market by the end of 2010, up from its current share of about 30 percent.

Sands also plans to open a $1.4 billion casino resort next year in Singapore.

In the United States, Sands is converting Pennsylvania’s long-shuttered Bethlehem Steel plant to a $600 million casino resort and is looking to develop casino resorts in other states considering looser restrictions on gambling.

Reporting by Deena Beasley; editing by Carol Bishopric