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Virgin bets on Chinese casino 27/01/2007
Julia Kollew

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group is planning to build a $3bn (£1.52bn) casino complex in Macau, China, which recently overtook Las Vegas as the world's biggest gambling centre.

The Virgin entrepreneur, whose business empire ranges from airlines to music and mobile phones, is in advanced talks to secure a 20-hectare site in the former Portuguese enclave, the Financial Times reported today.

"We hope to get all the boxes ticked in the next couple of months and start developing the site soon afterwards," Sir Richard told the paper.

The entrepreneur held talks with Macau's chief executive Edmund Ho on Wednesday to finalise arrangements for the planned entertainment complex which will feature three hotels and a casino, the Virgin group's first.

The complex, due to open by 2010, will cost $3bn to develop and is to be funded at least in part with a mix of Virgin equity and debt financing from international banks. Virgin hopes to recoup its upfront costs within 18 months of opening. Sir Richard wants to target a younger, 20- to 34-year age group, saying "The sector is growing but existing casinos are light on entertainment. There's little to attract the family crowd or make it a memorable value-for-money experience." He may opt for a branded joint-venture arrangement with one of six groups which currently hold rights to run casinos in Macau.

Two of the world's biggest gaming groups, Las Vegas Sands Corp and Wynn Resorts, have already built casinos in Macau and others like MGM Mirage have also set their sights on the territory.