Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I read the following article, which is excellent, in great amusement. This is another case of the Chinese government making a pretense to slow down something when in reality its action will have little impact. With GDP growing at a breakneck pace and the number of the rich and upper-middle class growing at an even higher pace, do you think that banning explicit mentioning of gambling will have dramatic impact on people's awareness of Macau? If one person in a township has been there, words will spread that it is a fabulous place (in the visual sense). You can also bet that tour operators are finding innumerable ways to get words out about Macau. Also, there are a lot of rich people in the backwaters of China (those mining bosses....) with nothing better to do with their money. Trust me, I just returned from Guiyang....The only question really is overall growth. As long as it is maintained, nothing can stop Macau (well, besides another Macau, but that will take time to build up). BTW, I finally get to put a picture of Tony Leung on this blog. He is my favorite HK actor besides Chow Yun-fat, who is also doing an ad for a casino.

With Gambling Ads Banned,
Attracting Casino Customers
Can Be a Roll of the Dice

MACAU -- How does a company market a product it can't mention?

That's the challenge for the flurry of new casinos opening here. Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal; advertising gambling, however, is still forbidden.

The solution, so far: wink at consumers and roll the dice in the hope censors aren't offended.

The Grand Lisboa, the newest casino from local tycoon Stanley Ho, uses TV ads featuring a troupe of Chinese martial artists to tout the company's local roots. The troupe isn't shown in or even near a casino. The Wynn Macau doesn't advertise on TV, but did hoist a giant neon sign on Hong Kong harbor that looks like Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn is writing his signature in lights all night long. And Las Vegas Sands Corp.'s Sands Macau blasts a text message to all Macau visitors who use their cellphones with certain local carriers, inviting them to check out its latest promotions.

The regulations on ad content in China aren't codified, and even the indirect approach can go awry with China's sometimes prudish censors. In April, Melco PBL Entertainment's Crown Macau launched an expensive TV "mini-movie" featuring the actor Chow Yun-fat. While never explicitly mentioning gambling, the ad suggests it by showing Mr. Chow in a series of mysterious encounters at the Crown's high-end facilities. During one scene, Mr. Chow throws a pair of dice -- which turn into ice cubes. In another scene, he flips a poker chip while talking with a butler about his unusual evening. The ad lasted only a few days before it was pulled from many stations by officials in China's Guangdong province, an important source of Macau's mainland Chinese visitors.

"Everybody is getting much more conscious about keeping within the boundary," says Felix Ling, the general manager for marketing at Macau newcomer Galaxy Entertainment Group. Ads for Galaxy's StarWorld resort, which opened last fall, employed champagne-sipping Chinese movie star Tony Leung to promise StarWorld is the "most exciting place to be in Macau," without explaining exactly why.

Once, Las Vegas resorts were also forbidden to advertise gambling. "We learned to differentiate ourselves with attitude or the environment where the games are played," says Randy Snow, the executive vice president of R&R partners, the U.S. agency behind the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" campaign. After the laws changed, about 15 years ago, some Vegas casinos started running ads linked to specific gambling promotions. Most still keep their messages focused on their other offerings.

But the U.S. approach isn't an exact fit for Macau. Although the general entertainment and convention market might develop over time, most tourists today visit Macau for day trips filled with a lot of gambling and relatively little else. The Wynn Macau had tried to sell its exclusive night club Tryst by employing a model to sit behind a velvet rope in the resort's lobby. Tryst closed a few months ago.

Las Vegas resorts tend to assume that their gambling facilities aren't a point of distinction, because tables and slot machines are all carefully regulated for consistency. While they're regulated in Macau, too, serious Chinese gamblers still think there are important differences. For the gambler conscious of feng shui, an ancient art of maximizing good fortune through design, the luck of a casino can vary depending on its orientation, lighting, decorations, even the day it opened.

So Chinese credentials have become a point of differentiation for Macau casinos. Mr. Ho's company, which has operated casinos in Macau for decades, opened its newest resort touting the company's history and knowledge of Chinese culture. The ad features martial artists to imply that kung fu, like running a casino, takes experience. "Real success grows in step with time," says a voiceover.

Macau's most important marketing tool may be the members of the Chinese and Hong Kong press, many of whom are hungry for lifestyle and celebrity stories. Even before the concrete dried in its new stadium, the Venetian had announced it would be hosting two NBA tournament games with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic, and the Chinese Men's National Team.

John Catt, vice president of the Grand Lisboa, which opened a casino and six restaurants in February, says avoiding pitching the main attraction "is a constant challenge, but not one that's insuperable." He adds: "The people who visit the Grand Lisboa come for the gaming experience. If they can enjoy the food while they're here, that's great. But it would be disingenuous to say they come here for the noodle bar."

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