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Las Vegas loves Asians

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Scott Jagow: In the past month, shares of the casino company Las Vegas Sands are up about 40 percent. Sands just opened the world’s biggest casino in Macau. And last week, Sands announced plans to build a second casino in that Chinese city.

Macau has now overtaken Las Vegas as the number one gambling spot in the world.
The reason is simple: Asians love to gamble. And at the casinos in Vegas, they’re very, very aware of that. Lenora Chu reports from Sin City.

Lenora Chu: In the casino industry, it’s well-known that of every five high rollers who come to Vegas, four are from Asia. They’re known as “whales” — players willing to bet 50 grand on a single hand, or risk a couple million over a single weekend.

Greg Shulman is the VP of international marketing for MGM Mirage, which owns Bellagio and MGM Grand.

Greg Shulman: Currently, the Asian segment of our international gaming revenue stream comprises a very healthy 75 percent. That’s where all the money is right now. A lot of the new wealth, especially mainland China, when you have an economy that’s growing at 8 percent per annum.

So who are these high rollers? Shulman says they’re entrepreneurs and captains of industry. They inhabit the upper echelons of Asian society. They outspend even the biggest American celebrities.

Shulman: These people live lifestyles that most of us can only fathom. They have butlers at their beck and call. They have chefs that travel with them. So really, what it comes down to is when they travel to Las Vegas, we’re really attempting simply to replicate the level of service that they’re accustomed to having at home. And it’s a very, very difficult task.

Even so, casinos know it’s critical to try.

At Bellagio, a customer wanting fresh abalone at 4 in the morning has a staff of Asian chefs at his command. At the Venetian, executives travel to Hong Kong to consult feng shui masters on new suite designs. At Wynn Las Vegas, no floor starts with the number 4 — elevator buttons skip from Floor 39 right up to Floor 50. Why? In Chinese superstition, the No. 4 signifies death.

Casinos around the nation are following suit. At Harrah’s Rincon Casino in San Diego, the gaming hosts speak six different Asian languages. And all employees go through cultural sensitivity training to better serve Asian guests.

For Harrah’s VP of marketing, Mike Stratton, the first lesson is always:

Mike Stratton: You never pat an Asian customer on the back. That is a big no-no.

And casinos know spending time on the little details help rake in the big bucks.

In Las Vegas, I’m Lenora Chu, for Marketplace.

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