* Casino to open on Apr 27, full opening on June 23
* Second casino in Singapore after Genting’s Resorts World
* Casinos to diversify Singapore economy, boost tourism, GDP
* Analysts expect Sands casino to fare better than Genting’s (Updates with analysts’ comments, background)
By Kevin Lim
SINGAPORE, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Las Vegas Sands (LVS.N) will open the first phase of its Singapore casino on April 27, earlier than expected, bringing into play a project CEO Sheldon Adelson says will generate $1 billion in annual profits.
The $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands casino will start operating along with 963 hotel rooms, part of the shopping mall and convention centre, and several dining outlets, Las Vegas Sands said in a statement on Wednesday.
The opening of the Marina Bay casino follows on the heels of the opening of Singapore’s first casino, rival Genting Singapore’s (GENS.SI) Resorts World at Sentosa, on Feb 14. [ID:nSGE61D01T]
“Given Marina Bay Sands’ centralised location and possibly a higher quality product offering, Resorts World will likely see challenges in attracting casino patronage,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Aun-Ling Chia in a note to clients.
“Resorts World needs to ramp up fast to fully leverage on the first-mover advantage,” Chia said.
The Marina Bay Sands occupies a waterfront site at the edge of Singapore’s central business district, and was the more fiercely contested licence when Singapore gave the green light to casinos in 2005 in a bid to attract more tourists.
News of the Singapore opening date comes amid pressure on the share prices of Las Vegas casino operators due to falling room rates and on worries about MGM Mirage’s (MGM.N) newly opened $8.5 billion, 6,000-room CityCenter project. [ID:nN18182194]
Las Vegas Sands, run by billionaire Adelson, is the world’s second-most valuable casino firm after its Hong Kong-listed unit Sands China (1928.HK), which owns and operates the parent company’s Macau properties.
The U.S.-listed unit owns the Venetian and Palazzo resorts on the Las Vegas Strip as well as a casino in Pennsylvania.
Adelson said in December he expects the Singapore casino to generate about $1 billion annually in operating profit when fully operational.
Las Vegas Sands said the Singapore casino’s official opening is scheduled for June 23 when the firm expects to open more retail and dining outlets along with the nightlife offerings.
The Marina Bay Sands’ April start date is in line with what Las Vegas Sands has forecast, but comes as a bit of a surprise as construction is still taking place at the waterfront site near Singapore’s central business district.
Las Vegas Sands had originally targetted an end-2009 opening for its Singapore casino, and had to cancel several corporate bookings as a result of the delay.
Singapore’s first casino, Resorts World, has had a mixed performance since its opening 10 days ago.
In a report on Wednesday, the Straits Times newspaper said while the shops and eateries were packed and hotels fully booked, the number of people entering the casino was much smaller than numbers reported by casinos in Macau after their opening.
Genting Singapore is a unit of Malaysia’s Genting Bhd (GENT.KL).
Each casino is expected to contribute a value add of S$2.7 billion ($1.92 billion), or 0.5 to 1 percent, to Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015, Singapore’s tourism promotion agency estimates. ($1=1.409 Singapore Dollar) (Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar and Fabian Ng; Editing by Valerie Lee and Lincoln Feast)