Busting The Virgin Experience Cotai Cherry
We've all read the endless stream of press releases wherein a given company announces grand plans to get into Macau's big game. Easily excitable members of the Macau news junkie community - me, and like three other dorks - salivate greatly at these majestic plan announcements and post and repost the details in every blog, message board and website that has a textarea and a submit button.
Following in the footsteps of the timeless web economy bullshit generator from Web 1.0 humor stalwart Dack.com, most of these ballyhooed announcements read like a Mad Libs, with the names, sizes, dimensions, cost, ground breaking and grand opening dates changed.
[Fill in company name] announced plans today to build a US$[number]Billion dollar resort in the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Macau which has recently surpassed Las Vegas in gaming revenue with win of over US$[two digit number] in [last year]. The new resort, which will be called [CompanyName][Adjective] Resort and Casino will feature [single digit number] hotel towers each with [two digit number] stories containing a total of [same two digit number x 126 x first single digit number] rooms. The project - currently in early design stages - is tentatively scheduled to break ground in [today plus 18 months] and will open in Spring [this year + 4]."
The king of these empty headed 'me too' press releases announcing a wide range of far fetched projects is undoubtably Virgin uberboss Richard Branson. Not a week or three goes by that Branson is jumping off, strapping himself to, standing under or hyperbolically hyping the announcement of the 'launch' of Virginfill-in-the-blank which - more often than not is forgotten about as soon as the press corp covering the 'event' files their report and heads to the bar. A 'Branson Announcement Scorecard' website tracking the progress of these pie-in-the-sky proclamations would make for extremely interesting reading, particularly when lined up with the ups and downs of Virgin's stock price - if it were even possible to make sense of their 'see what sticks' business plan. To his credit, people tend to believe the red and white hot air that comes from Branson's mouth and listen for the 30 seconds it takes the cheeky Brit to pitch his latest whatever.
For the purpose of our devices, Dick Branson's only *ahem* holdings that are of any concern was the open-ended announcement in early 2007 (has it really been that long?) that Virgin had entered into an agreement with Australian casino operator Tabcorp to open a Virgin branded casino in Cotai. Under the deal, Tabcorp would put up a large chunk of the development loot and manage the property. In addition to a financial investment, Branson - who has a supreme hard-on for his 'brand' - would supply the Virgin logo and unquantifiable 'international appeal.' Chances are Branson would also appear at the grand opening and base jump off of one of the V-shaped towers. Shortly after press releases were issued, Tabcorp pulled the plug on it leaving Dick Branson holding his bag.
Like a slowly sinking ship, the Virgin Experience Cotai, as it was to be called, went belly up then nose down to a deep silent grave - never to be heard of again. Except here.
Even a rookie like me knows that there are only 6 gaming concessions available in Macau, with zero more to come in 2009 (if Sands/Venetian's boss, Mr. Magoo Sheldon Adelson, is to be believed.) Now lets do the math... Virgin designs it, Tabcorp operates it and the casino... which is then subcontracted to a concession holder. In Macau mathematics, that equals three slices of half a pizza. Melco PBL seems like the only concession holder who would be interested in taking over the subcontract for Virgin Experience Cotai's casino operations, and - ooops - their parent owner, Publishing Broadcast Limited is a direct competitor of Tabcorp's casino and media holdings. Thus ends Richard Branson's fantasy of riding yet another one of his hot air balloons into Macau. At least he didn't have to suffer the embarrassment of being fished out of the Venetian Macao's lagoon by singing gondolier scuba detail.
Fortunately for us, the overexcited design heads at Virgin whatever contracted out a slew of renderings of the proposed Virgin Experience which we have rescued from the scrap heap of failed casinos for your entertainment.
Virgin Experience Casino Cotai, Macau
Yes folks... the building - which looks remarkably like something we've all built out of Legos at one point or another - is shaped like a V - an obvious homage to the wit, wisdom and business panache of the British Howard Hughes - Dickie Branson. The dome to the foreground could possibly be an entertainment venue, or possibly a re-imagining of the Macau dome itself. The small circular pool/fountain attraction, surrounded by concentric purple rings is just plain silly and obviously a 'first imagining'. The outlying buildings at the base of the hotel tower looks like a 'Gulfstream only' trailer park, or some kind of BioDome (*Pauly Shore not included). Horrible.
From the top, the Virgin Experience looks more like the Virgin Macau Airport. Nearly every building looks like part of a plane fuselage (the large white 'casino' with red windows and the Gulfstream trailers poking out) or tail sections (two main towers and the three smaller ones on the right). The two curvy towers at the back sure do look like orange mini Wynns. It looks lke that brown squiggly thing is a water slide or maybe a mini go-cart track. Frankly, the grayed out building in the background - which I can't identify as anything 'currently under construction' in Cotai - looks a helluva lot more interesting to me. The roller coaster makes me wonder if it's a faux 'Virgin' version of the Hello Kitty Cotai project, which nobody seems to know anything about.
Anyways, while having Dicky Branson in the mix at every high rolling shindig is always somewhat interesting, we can categorically say that this project is pretty much flambe at this point. Cross this one off the list, at least until we hear concrete details from a current concession holder that an operating agreement has been reached. Which we won't.
Odds on hearing Branson yap about Virgin Experience Cotai becoming a reality: 8-1
Odds on whether it becomes reality : 999-1