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Macau prepares for gaming expo as business thrives

HONG KONG -- Macau will this week host a three-day gaming expo as the former Portuguese colony powers ahead as the world's biggest gambling centre, defying dire predictions of a slowdown.

Several thousand people will attend Global Gaming Expo Asia from Tuesday, where industry leaders will discuss a range of issues from the region's future growth to combatting cheating at the tables.

Among those at the event will be Francis Lui, deputy chairman of Macau giant Galaxy Entertainment Group, and Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the American Gaming Association.

The expo comes as Macau continues to post record-setting revenue figures with May gaming sales up 95 percent year-over-year to 17 billion patacas (US$2.10 billion), according to Hong Kong brokerage CLSA.

Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, has already leapfrogged Las Vegas in gaming revenue after opening up its market to overseas operators in 2002.

“We've been saying for eight months that things would slow down, but they haven't,” said Aaron Fischer, a CLSA gaming analyst.

Fischer said he expects Macau tourist arrivals to increase about 10 percent annually with construction of several stalled casino-hotel developments being restarted on the reclaimed Cotai Strip.

Soaring revenues in the high-roller market are driving the huge gains, rather than an across-the-board surge in money spent on the gaming tables, he added.

Fahrenkopf said the city's record-breaking revenues stood in sharp contrast to U.S. destination venues such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Reno, which have been hit by the global downturn.

In 2009, Macau notched up about US$14.5 billion in gaming revenue while the entire U.S. market saw revenues of US$30.74 billion.

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