It is still “too early” to predict what will be the trajectory for casino legalisation in Thailand, says Robert Goldstein (pictured), chairman and chief executive of casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS), which already has business in the Macau and Singapore casino markets.
The company has been on record over a number of years as observing the potential of Thailand were it to take the step of passing the necessary legal framework.
“We’re interested, we’re looking… but it’s early days,” he told GGRAsia in an interview in Macau.
Thailand had a national election on May 14, and at the time this story went online was in the process of forming a coalition government.
In January, a sitting member of the country’s House of Representatives – the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament – said it could be up to three years before any decision was made to legalise resort-based casino business in Thailand.
Expressing a different opinion, an adviser to a Thailand parliamentary committee mulling the legalisation of casino business told GGRAsia earlier this week that the country could pass the necessary enabling legislation for casino resorts in as early as the next 12 months. At least one resort could open as soon as 2030, he added.
Were a 2030 opening realised, it could put Thailand on a schedule to launch an integrated resort with casino at around the same time as Osaka in Japan.
Referring to how a country’s public policy develops beyond the initial phase of casino-business liberalisation, Mr Goldstein noted: “We tried very hard to be in Japan. It just didn’t work for us.”
Asked what factors Thailand might wish to consider if it wanted to attract overseas investment, the executive stated: “A great regulatory framework and a commitment to quality.”
He added Thailand ideally might opt to be “committed to a realistic enterprise” in terms of “capital deployed” to any particular project. “That creates a structure that is good for the operator. That’s the precursor for us.”
Asked about locations for investment, Mr Goldstein stated: “You want be in the most commercially viable place and I assume that’s the Bangkok” area or nearby, “but I think it’s still early.”
GGRAsia asked Mr Goldstein about the group’s pursuit of a downstate casino licence in New York, in the United States, and whether it might be a similar operation – on a larger scale – to its former Sands Bethlehem property in Pennsylvania, which it agreed to sell in early 2018 for US$1.3 billion.
He said there was “no relationship” scale- or concept-wise between Sands Bethlehem and a potential New York project. The latter would be a “full blown resort”
Mr Goldstein stated: “We spent in Bethlehem less than US$1 billion. We’ll spend in New York probably US$5 billion, US$6 billion.”
He observed: “I was very involved in the Sands Bethlehem plan both in building it and selling it. One of the reasons I thought we should sell it was because I thought New York [downstate licensing] was inevitable.”
GGRAsia asked whether entry into online business might be a necessary defensive step for Las Vegas Sands, as markets develop. Mr Goldstein stated that currently “it’s very dangerous to be in it”.
“The amount of money” other companies “spent failing in sports [betting] is painful, scary now,” he asserted. “We have made some small forays into the B2B [business-to-business] and B2C [business-to-consumer] side at this point… Our bread and butter is land-based resorts.”
“There’s no amount of money would make me jeopardise Macau or Singapore,” Mr Goldstein added. “We’d never be online in Asia. We’d never upset the governments [there] because clearly they don’t want it.”
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