This article first appeared in the Jul/Aug 2015 issue of WGM.
On 27 May 2015, the first of eight new properties under construction in Cotai officially opened their doors with Galaxy Phase II and its sister property Broadway Macau celebrating their Grand Openings. Yet they did so amid a wave of uncertainty. Just days later, Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau released figures which not only showed gaming revenue for May down 37.1 percent on the same time last year but also marked 12 months of consecutive monthly decline. Likewise, the allocation of new gaming tables was predictably fewer than had originally been hoped with Galaxy receiving just 150 of the 400 requested. So how has Galaxy responded and what do these two new properties bring to the table? WGM takes a closer look.
If the whispers circling Macau’s gaming industry in the preceding weeks were to be believed, the Grand Opening of Galaxy Phase II and Broadway Macau on 27 May was destined to be more solemn than celebration. Yet if the woes of the previous 12 months had indeed dampened enthusiasm, Galaxy did a great job of hiding it.
Perhaps surprisingly given the level of uncertainty in the lead-up – particularly in regards to the government’s unhelpful decision to announce Galaxy II’s new gaming table allocation just eight days before launch – the Grand Opening brought with it a sense of optimism that Macau was ready to ride out the storm. More importantly, Galaxy Entertainment Group (GEG) appear to have accepted and adjusted to the realities of the local environment in 2015 with a clear focus on mass market over VIP gaming at both properties.
Time will tell how that works out.
Galaxy Phase II and Broadway Macau represent the dawn of a new era in Macau – or so it is hoped – as the first of eight properties due to open in Cotai between now and late 2017. But the nature of their ambition has changed dramatically since these properties were first conceived in the midst of Macau’s gaming boom – all of them expecting to cash in on the seemingly endless growth the industry enjoyed at the time.
Now, having seen the bubble burst so dramatically on the back of the Chinese Central Government’s anti-corruption crackdown, Cotai 2.0 is no longer considered a guaranteed cash cow but instead Macau’s best chance to stop the rot. Rest assured all eyes will be on Galaxy II and Broadway over the next few months.
So will the lure of these shiny new offerings spark Macau’s next great boom? Firstly, we should note that although the government’s determination to diversify Macau by making non-gaming a priority can only be a positive in the long run, the timing of it hasn’t made life easy for the operators. Not only had Cotai’s new properties already been designed, construction on all eight was well and truly underway when they were belatedly informed that the allocation of new gaming tables would be based on each property’s non-gaming facilities.
Nevertheless, GEG has done its best to come to the party with non-gaming at the heart of their marketing campaigns in the lead-up to May’s Grand Opening. Galaxy Phase II expands the number of retail stores across the entire Galaxy property to over 200 and doubles their food outlets to 120 – the most notable new arrival being Hong Kong’s 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana complete with three Michelin stars.
An additional 1,300 hotel rooms brings Galaxy’s total room inventory to around 4,000 with the two new hotels comprising Asia’s largest JW Marriott with over 1,000 rooms and the world’s first all-suite Ritz-Carlton.
As for attracting families, the Grand Resort Deck with its popular wave pool and sand beach can now lay claim to being a genuine water park, covering 75,000 square metres and boasting among other things the world’s longest skytop aquatic adventure ride at an impressive 575 meters.
Just across the road, Broadway Macau is billed as an entertainment precinct reminiscent of its famous namesake in New York. A 3,000 seat auditorium provides a new venue for local and international performances while cutting through the middle of the property is a hawker-style street market with street performers and over 40 food stalls to entertain the crowds.
However, it is the gaming side of the business that reflects a much greater shift for Galaxy, who appear to have accepted the realities of the current climate. By dedicating all 38 tables to mass market gaming, Broadway becomes the first Macau property in the modern era to exclusively target the mass market segment and as such will have Macau’s entire gaming industry eagerly anticipating its results over the coming months.
Galaxy Phase II opened with only three junkets, Suncity, Tak Chun Group and AG, confirmed to operate new VIP rooms. Despite being granted just 150 of the 400 new-to-market gaming tables they requested, Galaxy has assigned the majority of those to mass market with only 48 making their way to VIP rooms. Not so long ago the mix would most likely have been the other way around.
Of course, as far as the operators are concerned, none of this is ideal and as the first to open their new properties Galaxy has been caught somewhat short. In many ways, Galaxy Phase II is simply more of the same – taking the blueprint from Phase I and adding more hotel rooms, more restaurants and more shops. True innovation was never going to be easy to achieve.
Yet at the very least they have looked to make the best of a bad situation.
In our recent May/Jun 2015 issue of WGM we took an in-depth look at the eight new properties due to open in Cotai between now and 2017, with a particular focus on their non-gaming offerings. You can find that story, titled “Cotai 2.0: Hero or zero“, on our website at www.wgm8.com.
Galaxy Phase II
Unlike Macau’s other concessionaires – Melco-Crown, Sands, Wynn, MGM and SJM – who will all open brand new properties in Cotai over the next few years, Galaxy II is really just a seamless expansion of the existing Galaxy property and the second of four planned phases that will eventually see it cover a massive two million square meters.
As such, it isn’t dramatically different from Phase I in terms of its basic architecture or the general feel of the gaming floor. But what it does, it does well.
Wander into the first and by far the biggest of Galaxy II’s two new hotels, JW Marriott, and you can’t help but be drawn to the dramatic staircase that sweeps upwards and around an enormous chandelier hanging from two stories above.
The impressive structure stands out against the otherwise minimalistic design of the lobby area, providing a real 5-star ambience. That said, JW Marriott seems to be more about efficiency and convenience than the absolute luxury of the Ritz-Carlton.
Covering 18 floors, JW Marriott consists of 944 rooms and 71 suites while the ground floor’s grand ballroom and six smaller meeting rooms provide a total of 2,700 square meters of meeting space.
Food and Beverage offerings are modest, comprising Man Ho Chinese Restaurant and Urban Kitchen which provides all day dining with a buffet. There is also a Lounge Bar providing drinks and afternoon tea plus the Pool Bar where you can grab a light meal or snack.
Parents will be pleased to know that JW Marriott comes with a Kids Club for guests, with qualified childcare staff providing educational and entertaining child minding between the hours of 09:30 and 21:30.
Located directly above JW Marriott and covering the top floors of the tower is the prestigious Ritz-Carlton featuring 254 luxury guest suites, including three villa suites, with an average size of 96 square meters. Large windows provide spectacular views over Cotai and down to the Galaxy Pool Deck.
The Ritz-Carlton lobby is located on the 51st floor and like much of the hotel boasts floor to ceiling marble – all imported from Italy. In fact, the marble bathrooms in the suites with their round spa and large shower facilities are nothing short of spectacular.
It is this top quality finish that also has Ritz-Carlton looking to establish itself as Macau’s number one wedding venue. Along with the 900 square meters of event space available for the big day, a special room has also been created for the signing of the wedding contract and it must be said the room is nothing short of exquisite!
While JW Marriott’s food and beverage options are tailored towards quick and easy, the Ritz-Carlton is all about Fine Dining – led by Cantonese restaurant Lai Heen on the 51st floor. Lai Heen features five private dining rooms and is overseen by Chef Fu Man Piu who previously ran the two Michelin star Tin Lung Heen at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.
The Ritz-Carlton Café is a traditional French brasserie with a casual, relaxed ambience and serves breakfast from 10:00 as well as lunch, afternoon tea and dinner while the Ritz-Carlton Bar & Lounge specializes in hot chocolate and oysters during the day before turning into a relaxed nightspot with a range of signature cocktails and a DJ.
However, the most anticipated restaurant of all isn’t in either hotel but forms part of the broader Galaxy II development. Hong Kong’s 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana has been awarded three Michelin stars the past four years running and its new restaurant at Galaxy sees it join Robuchon au Dôme and The Eight as the only Macau restaurants to boast Michelin’s top honor. Nevertheless, its design is unmistakably Galaxy and carries the wider theme through with a large, curved marble bar the central attraction.
Joining 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in expanding its Hong Kong enterprise is fine dining Cantonese establishment Fook Lam Moon, while for those who enjoy some visual entertainment while they dine, the Noodle Kitchen features three live cooking stations aimed at showcasing traditional cooking methods – one for homemade noodles, one for steaming and a third for homemade dumplings.
No doubt those with a passion for food will enjoy the opportunity to test drive these new offerings, however it is the revamped pool deck that Galaxy II is hoping will provide an attractive option for families in the stifling summer heat. Already home to the skytop wave pool with its white sand beach, Galaxy’s new Grand Resort Deck has been expanded to over 75,000 square meters and is certainly much more entertaining with the addition of waterslides, white water rapids and geysers. Their big ticket item is what is being touted as the world’s longest skytop aquatic adventure river ride and although we’re yet to try it out ourselves, it does look like great fun. At 575 metres long, it is essentially a super-sized water slide with guests jumping in and letting the water carry them through various twists and turns across the expanses of the pool deck.
In all honesty this expansion is largely more of the same from Galaxy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. As usual, the standard of Galaxy’s offering is superb and the property now has a “complete” feel to it. The addition of the central promenade to the existing east and west promenades means you can enter Galaxy at any point and do a complete circle to come back to where you started. And the updated Grand Resort Deck does stand out given Macau’s lack of genuine family-friendly destinations.
Galaxy Phase II now sets the benchmark for Macau. In our opinion Galaxy right now stands as the best integrated resort in Macau and it is up to the other concessionaires to catch up with their new offerings scheduled to open over the next two years.
The property now known as Broadway Macau will always hold a special place in our heart. Back in 2008, before Macau became a place to call home, this was where a number of WGM staff stayed to cover and play in the APPT Macau poker tournament being held at what was then called the Grand Waldo.
A modest property with modest rooms to match, we distinctly recall the WiFi connection being temperamental at best. There wasn’t a whole lot to see nearby either, although a lengthy stroll (in the heat it felt like a half-marathon!) to the only integrated resort in Cotai at the time, the Venetian, took us past the huge shell of a building gradually rising from the dirt nearby – a confusing clutter of cranes, metal and concrete slabs that would take another three years to complete Galaxy Macau.
This was a Cotai still very much in its infancy at the time and Grand Waldo was far from five star luxury, so it was always going to be interesting to see it reborn as Broadway Macau given how much has changed around it over the past seven years.
Two attributes stand out above all else. One, it is still a very confusing property to navigate. Galaxy spent HK$3.25 billion to acquire the Grand Waldo in 2013 and at least as much again renovating it but apparently none of that money went towards building right-angled corners, so expect to get lost a few times before you find your bearings.
Two, it is colorful! Promoting itself as a genuine entertainment precinct for families, the outdoor street market area is clean and simple with bursts of bright yellows, reds and blues from the various street stalls and attractions. Inside the casino, the walls and pillars stand out thanks to neon lights running right along their edges. Think “kid in a candy store” and you get the idea.
Just like the Grand Waldo before it, Broadway Macau comprises three separate buildings with the largest of them – the one at the front directly facing Galaxy Macau across the road – housing a striking new 3,000 seat theatre.
The building to the left (as you look from the street running between Broadway and Galaxy Macau) has remained the casino building and although its layout is similar to the Grand Waldo, the new version is much, much brighter – try not to let the glaring yellow carpet blind you on your way in!
With its glaring lights and shiny new finishes, Broadway Macau is at least a refreshing change from the huge, methodical gaming floors of Macau’s other properties and the outdoor cigar lounge is particularly nice if that’s your cup of tea. However we’re not quite sure why the dealers have been trained to give the thumbs up whenever someone walks past. This is no doubt an attempt to provide a friendlier, more relaxed vibe but instead comes across as a fraction contrived or even over-zealous!
Still, it does fit in with the property’s stated demographic as a mass market, family-oriented destination and it is with this in mind that Galaxy has created Broadway’s standout feature – an active street market stretching close to 200 meters and boasting around 40 food outlets. Running between the theatre building and the rear back-of-house building, it operates as a normal street during the week but is blocked off on weekends to create a dynamic entertainment precinct.
The concept is an intriguing one. Macau has no shortage of famous local eateries showcasing its unique blend of cultures, but with traffic so congested these days it can be a nightmare trying to get to them. Broadway has tried to solve this problem by gathering together some of the best and putting them all together in the one street.
But will it work? The goal of creating a party street has been aided by the addition of various street performers such as Band on the Run – literally a band running up and down the street as they play – and attractions like a Kombi van cut in half and turned into a bar.
On the other hand, you can’t artificially create a street’s character. The great ones – such as those found in New York’s famous Broadway district which this property is looking to emulate – evolve over time. For the time being, it all feels a bit contrived but that’s not to say it won’t develop a character of its own over time.
One thing Broadway’s street market does offer is a lively venue for visitors more interested in entertainment than gaming to while away the time – something Macau’s properties have largely overlooked in the past. And with its innovative approach to both gaming and non-gaming, Broadway looms as an intriguing case study for the “new” Macau.