Brown heading to Macau

Atlantic City – Mark Brown is going to be a top casino boss in the „Las Vegas of the East.“ But it isn’t Atlantic City.

Today, the former Trump executive will board a Cathay Pacific Airways jet for a 15-hour flight to Hong Kong and then catch a ferry to Macau. Brown will oversee the Macau casinos for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s gaming company that is transforming the Chinese enclave into the celebrated „Las Vegas of the East“ — or in this case, the Far East.

With USD 5.8 billion in gaming revenue last year, Macau is challenging Las Vegas as the largest casino market in the world. Macau continues its frenetic growth with the help of new megaresorts developed by Adelson, Las Vegas golden boy Steve Wynn and gaming giant MGM Mirage.

Brown, who worked his way up from blackjack dealer to casino CEO during his meteoric, 25-year career in Atlantic City, said the excitement and challenges of being in the “most explosive economic region in recent history” proved irresistible.

„Macau reminds me of Atlantic City in 1984, with all the building that is going on there right now,“ he said. „It’s exploding.“

As part of his move to Macau, Brown will be resigning from his unpaid position as chairman of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the resort’s top tourism agency.

Brown, 44, had been considering job offers in the United States and abroad since he resigned last year from his USD 1.7 million position heading the three Atlantic City casinos owned by Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. Brown said he quit voluntarily amid a management shake-up in Donald Trump’s gaming company that followed its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last May.

Trading one billionaire casino owner for another, Brown has left Trump behind to become president of Adelson’s Sands Macao Casino and the Macao Venetian Casino Resort opening in 2007. The mammoth Macao Venetian, a replica of Adeleson’s Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas, will feature 3,000 hotel rooms, 5,000 slot machines and 700 gaming tables.

With stunning success, the Sands Macao Casino, which opened in 2004, made back its $ 265 million investment within the first year and even bigger things are expected of the new Macao Venetian, Brown noted.

Moreover, Brown will oversee Adelson’s transformation of 500 acres of reclaimed land between the islands of Coloane and Taipa into a USD 4.5 billion complex of casinos and luxury hotels, including ones by the posh Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis chains.

„When he wanted to go to Macau, other competitors said this isn’t going to work,“ Brown said of Adelson’s vision for a Las Vegas-style Chinese gambling hub. „Well, guess what? It worked.“

Macau, or Macao, is a peninsula attached to mainland China. The former Portuguese colony – the only place in China where casino gaming is legal — is a haven for affluent Chinese city dwellers and free-spending gamblers from nearby Hong Kong.

During an earlier trip to Macau, Brown was astonished at the intense demand for spots at a baccarat table where the minimum bet was USD 125,000.

„There were rows of people, two or three deep. Everybody was screaming. It was amazing,“ he said.

Brown said he had to ask someone to explain to him exactly what was happening at the baccarat table because he doesn’t speak Chinese. Now he plans to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese, although he noted that English commonly is heard in Macau because of the influx of visitors from countries where English is a first or second language.

„I really don’t see any problems,“ he said.