China has gone Hollywood. Macau debuts its family friendly casino resort with Hollywood themes and big budget attractions. Enlisting Hollywood’s elite for the opening night, director Martin Scorsese premiered a short film titled, “The Audition” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The audience was given a glimpse, through scenes in the film, into the extravagance that is Macau’s Studio City resort.

The Studio City development, at a cost $3.2 billion, is the new vision of Macau; one of the first of its kind in China to cater to middle class families, and not wealthy gamblers. Melco Crown Entertainment partnered with Warner Bros. to bring to life old Hollywood charms, magical illusionists, and a 5,000 seat theater that housed Mariah Carey as the first opening act. The theater is also designed to host concerts, awards shows and sporting events.

Envisioning the theme of the resort, Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, co-owner and CEO of Crown, states, “We don’t like to cookie-cut things. This time we knew we wanted something over the top.” And that is what was created.

This massive complex accommodates a Batman-themed flight simulation that takes patrons through the streets and skies of Gotham City. Thinkwell Group, which has designed many attractions globally, created The Fun Zone, a play area with 40,000-square-feet of entertainment. Think DC comics meets Looney Toons. With age-appropriate rides and interaction with WB themed characters, children under 12 will discover much to enjoy.

Studio City holds two hotels. The 1,600 rooms in the resort were conceived by the Goddard Group, based in North Hollywood. Developers envisioned an art-deco themed resort that would bring to mind classic films like the Batman series. To expand on an “over-the-top” design, and think outside the box mentality, between the hotels sits a Ferris wheel. Known as the Golden Reel, it was designed in the shape of a figure-8. Patrons can get a view of the grounds during the 15-minute ride.

Playing on the concept of Hollywood, Studio City offers three shopping districts. Each has its own theme, as well, reminiscent of Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills and New York’s Times Square.

As revenue sales began slowly declining, Macau was driven to developing a different kind of casino resort. When Studio City was first conceived, Macau was known to cater to the affluent. Wealthy gamblers came over from the mainland, looking to win big. As business grew, Macau developed a junket system, in which promoters sought out and urged high rollers to gamble in the casinos in exchange for free perks.

Macau was the biggest gambling hub in the world. Only an hour from Hong Kong and the only location where gambling is legal, Macau generated more money than Las Vegas.
By 2013 gambling in Macau had generated $45 billion. Large companies like Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. built properties. Soon the former Portuguese region became a gambling monopoly.

With China fighting back against gambling corruption, the high rollers weren’t willing to be caught in the crossfire. The VIP’s began betting half of what they used to, and soon stopped showing up. Choosing to go elsewhere, such as, South Korea or Vietnam, or stay home altogether, losses from VIP earnings ranged in the hundred millions.

By 2014 the economy was stalling. China imposed caps on the number of gambling tables casinos could house. Money laundering was running rampant. Neptune Group Ltd., a junket company, had lost over $100 million. Both Wynn and Sands were reporting lost profits.

With a cap in place on gaming tables, China urged developers to create properties that catered less to the wealthy and more to the masses. China’s push to target middle class families and turn around Macau’s reputation as a seedy, crime encumbered, gambling resort began with Studio City.

Melco opened its Studio City resort with approximately half of the tables originally requested, as gaming tables for the high rollers now a thing of the past. Melco referred to past statistics with less than 10 percent of earnings coming from VIP revenue. Hopeful, Ho looked to the future, stating, “In the last 10 years we always believed that the mass tables would be leading the Macau market.”

Skeptics, however, still believe that it’s the casinos that sustain the economy. Some have questioned if China’s annual 3 percent cap on gaming tables, will have the opposite effect. A balance between the two needs to be met to succeed in both.

In the coming years several large budget enterprises and infrastructure are in the works. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is currently under construction which further opens entry into Macau. Soon a ferry coming from Taipa to Macau will increase the access as well. Mainly, investors are counting on the building of a rail system that will connect Macau to the mainland.

China believes, with a rise in middle class income, and a smarter more sophisticated traveler, catering to the mass market will take them into the next generation. Studio City, with a Hollywood feel, more non-gaming activities, and easier access, hopes to be that future. Macau is counting on attracting middle class travelers to boost revenue and create a family-friendly tourist destination.