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The Wizard of Macau

Profile Photo By: H L
December 16, 2013

The Wizard of Macau

For years now, Macau has been a haven for hardcore bettors. Justin Guariglia/AuroraOutside Hong Kong’s historic Peninsula Hotel one recent weekday afternoon, two men compare their Bentleys. A gun-metal gray edition with the license plate “Iron Man” looks positively understated next to a fiery-red model whose gold paint flecks and hood ornament coated in 100 carats of diamonds sparkle in the sun.

That vehicle, worth around US $1 million, is part of a nine-car luxury fleet that belongs to Stephen Hung, one of Hong Kong’s most ostentatious dealmakers.

Hung, dressed in black pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with bright flowers and geometric shapes ?both very tight and very Versace?is there to do some shopping. In a private room in the hotel’s Graff Diamonds store, Hung tells Arnaud Bastien, the British jeweler’s Asia president and chief executive, that he has recently been to Venice, where he sailed on founder Laurence Graff’s 150-foot yacht. Bastien acknowledges that his boss “knows how to enjoy” life. “Except right next to it was a 250-footer!” Hung interjects. He pulls up some photos of the trip on his?iPhone?and passes it around the room.

Stephen Hung, a flamboyant Chinese entrepreneur, unveils plans to build an exclusive gambling destination in Macau for the ultra-wealthy. Kate O’Keeffe reports on his latest real estate project for WSJ.Money magazine. (Photo: Louis XIII)

“When we work with Stephen he’s always eager to have something special,” says Bastien, as he produces one of the designs Graff has prepared for Hung. It is a watch face adorned with diamonds in the shape of Hung’s own visage. A line of rubies is planned to represent Hung’s signature look: a swath of bright red hair sweeping across his forehead. “We came up with this and he asked, ‘Can you make my hair more red?'” explains Bastien.

Hung lights a Dunhill cigarette with a gold lighter. “Not many men get to try these on,” he says, as he slips on a flawless 23-carat diamond ring that out-sparkles even his bright green Christian Louboutin loafers covered in gold spikes. “These are all worth over $10 million?obviously,” he says, pointing to the jewels on display.

Hung then starts admiring an enormous diamond necklace. His public-relations representative suggests it would look lovely on his wife. “No…I’m thinking for myself,” Hung says, as he puts it around his neck and has the representative snap a photo of him wearing it. “It’s never too big,” Hung says of a diamond pinky ring. Bastien agrees: “It can always be bigger.”

THOUGH HARDLY A HOUSEHOLD NAME?outside Hong Kong, Hung is one of the more eccentric members of an exploding number of mega-rich businessmen emerging from Asia these days. His enormous wealth has come from deals in investment banking and real estate, including in the gambling mecca of Macau. And it is there that, at 55 years old?an age when he says he can afford to do whatever he wants?he has decided to stake his claim and make some headlines. His plan may make some scratch their heads, but it makes perfect sense to him: He wants to transform a patch of Macau into a unique playground for ultra-wealthy individuals, with perks as eye-catching as his lifestyle. Indeed, if he has his way, it will be a destination unlike any other in the world.

About an hour’s hydrofoil away from Hong Kong, the gambling center is a remarkable place, if only for the volume of cash that flows from its felt-top tables. That’s currently about six times the gambling revenue of the Las Vegas Strip, even though Macau was hardly viewed as a competitor a decade ago. Yet even as it balloons in size, Macau has never really entered into the global consciousness in the same way that Las Vegas, with its Rat Pack heritage, or Monte Carlo, with its panache and pricey yachts, did. Those who know Macau know it as a haven of hardcore gamblers who prefer tea to cocktails, a bowl of noodles to a five-course meal and a quick change of underwear to a night in a luxurious hotel room. Most Macau gamblers would rather play baccarat for 24 hours straight than sip a martini in a dinner jacket.

Hung is out to change that. His vision is to build the most luxurious and exclusive casino resort ever imagined, boldly named “Louis XIII” and containing all the trappings of that king’s genteel world. It starts with a 22-story, bright red building crowned with an enormous fake diamond, according to the latest designs. Inside, guests will find a 200-room hotel with what Hung claims will be the world’s most extravagant hotel suite: a 20,000-square-foot-plus abode that will cost nearly $130,000 per night. Guests will be chauffeured by a fleet of some 15 red Rolls-Royce Phantoms.

Patrons will need an invitation to shop in private boutiques at the resort. Jewelry items at the atelier will cost at least $1 million, with some priced at over $100 million, while the fashion houses will only sell bespoke and couture pieces, according to the plans. Graff has signed on as one of the atelier’s partners. There will be a casino, too, of course. Analysts expect it to have 66 gambling tables requiring a minimum bet of nearly $650.

Not surprisingly, Hung’s bold ambitions have already drawn their share of critics. Wasn’t it Las Vegas that a decade ago tried to become a place of unadulterated luxury but stumbled when the financial crisis struck? Isn’t China’s new leader Xi Jinping aggressively frowning on excessive displays of wealth? Never mind, says Hung, whose development company has already raised more than $400 million to launch the project and lined up some big players in the local finance, property, casino and luxury goods scene for the venture’s board and senior management team. The dice are already rolling.

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Source The Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303997604579238361987195446?mod=dist_smartbrief

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