Gaming insights

Studio City: Standing out from the crowd

Pai Yao
Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of WGM.

With millions spent on a range of innovative non-gaming attractions and not a single VIP table to be found, Studio City – which became the newest addition to the Cotai landscape when it opened its doors on 27 October – represents a new direction for integrated resorts in Macau. WGM runs the rule over Macau’s latest arrival.

It may well be dividing opinion between those still longing for the golden days and those keen on diversity, but one thing for certain is that Studio City is unlike anything Macau has seen before.

Melco Crown Co-Chairmen Lawrence Ho and James Packer have invested US$3.2 billion into this resort, which they hope will change the face of Macau’s casino industry and, hopefully, help end 18 consecutive months of declining gaming revenue.

Studio City follows a new script for integrated resorts in Macau. Its 250 gaming tables granted by the government are all for mass market players. The resort has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in entertainment features, headlined by a reported US$70 million for The Audition – a short film starring Academy Award winners Robert De Niro, Leonardo Di Caprio, director Martin Scorsese – all of whom attended the resort opening for the film’s debut – and Brad Pitt. Studio City bills itself as “Asia’s Entertainment Capital” with non-gaming attractions including a world’s first Batman ride, multi-stage magic show, Asia’s highest figure-eight Ferris wheel and a 5,000 seat arena where Madonna will perform two shows in February, following opening night performances by Mariah Carey, Aaron Kwok and South Korea’s Sistar.

The resort was virtually complete when it opened to the public on 27 October, missing just a handful of retail outlets and a pair of signature restaurants, including record setting Michelin star chef Alain Ducasse’s Rech, due to open in 2016.

The 1,600 room resort’s exterior is “Gotham City with an asteroid shot through it,” according to Mr Ho, while the interior evokes Hollywood of the 1920s and ’30s with shopping areas presented as period movie set versions of New York and Beverly Hills, plus steam punk elements taken from the early industrial age.

“We didn’t follow what the competitors did.We’re a young company,” the 38-year-old Mr Ho added. “We’re willing to try new things.”

The most unexpected of those new things Studio City is trying is the absence of VIP gaming, relying instead on Macau’s growing mass market segment to drive their future.

Walk through a central corridor leading from the hotel’s main entrance on Estrada do Istmo and gaming tables branch out across the diamond shaped casino floor. Boasting a color scheme dominated by red, orange and gold, Studio City also boasts 1,233 slot machines and a 200 terminal live dealer multi-game arena.

Main floor table minimums begin at HK$300 with HK$1,000 tables the most prevelant and all but 16 tables for baccarat. The premium mass Signature Club has a branch off the main floor with about one-third of the casino’s allotted tables. Smoking is prohibited outside smoking lounges throughout. Lighting fixtures range from crystal chandeliers to Chinese inspired cloth lanterns.

The casino’s centrepiece is a fountain of cascading teapots, surrounded by a tea bar. There’s no live music or entertainment on the floor, but plenty outside.

Dubbed “Asia’s Entertainment Capital,” Studio City aims to shift Macau’s center of gaming and tourism gravity further toward Cotai with its array of non-gaming attractions. Most immediately noticeable is the celluloid inspired Golden Reel running in a figure eight from the 23rd floor between the resort’s two hotel towers, rising 130 meters above Cotai. The 17 cabs, boarded as the wheel keeps rolling, can each accommodate up to 10 riders. The 15 minute ride provides bird’s eye views of Cotai, Macau International Airport and Hengqin although truth be told, there’s not much to see right now except the airport and empty lots. It is basically facing away from the heart of Cotai, but once Hengqin grows up it may be more impressive.

Batman Dark Flight begins with a tour of Wayne Industries that’s interrupted by an attack from Batman’s arch enemy, The Joker. According to the ride’s story line, the attack requires guests to evacuate to the Bat Cave via the 72 seat 4D flight simulator and dives through Gotham City as Batman fights super-villains attacking the flight and population below. The seven minute simulation segment features moving seats and special effects that heighten the feel of flying. We definitely recommend giving this a go!

The House of Magic is set to vie with Batman for Studio City’s star billing. Illusionist Franz Harary, whose global credits include working in mainland China since 1994, conceived the complex with four performance venues offering three shows daily – four on weekends.

Beginning in a steam punk drawing room, different magicians perform in distinct styles at each stop over 90 minutes, culminating with Mr Harary’s resident Mega Magic show. The theater’s massive video screen backdrop is as extraordinary as the tricks on stage. The complex extends to Shanghai Magic, offering fine dining in Victorian décor, highlighting the era’s fascination with mechanical curiosities that seemed magical at the time.

Warner Bros Fun Zone focuses on children with rides and other attractions based on the Warner Brothers stable that includes DC Comics, Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes. Physical and interactive activities are designed for toddlers to teens, with opportunities for the entire family to participate and even compete in some challenges, such as the Hypercade, where riders aim their blasters at 3D targets to help characters from Tweety Pie to the Green Lantern overcome foes and outscore fellow riders. The 40,000 square foot fun zone on four levels also features a diner with character themed meals at family friendly prices and a pair of party rooms for Looney Tunes or DC superhero styled children’s events.

The Golden Reel is priced at MOP$100 (US$12.50) for adults, MOP$80 for children up to 12 and MOP$85 for Macau residents and seniors 60 and older.

Batman Dark flight costs MOP$150 for adults, MOP$120 for children and MOP$125 for residents and seniors.

House of Magic tickets run MOP$400 for adults, MOP$320 for children and MOP$340 for Macau residents, with VIP treatment available in all categories at a 50 percent premium.

Two hours in the Warner Bros Fun Zone costs MOP$200 for an adult and child and MOP$340 for two adults and two children. An adult must accompany children under eight. Hotel packages include the Golden Reel and Batman as freebies, but the House of Magic comes at a MOP$700 premium for two.

Melco Crown is positioning Studio City as a mass market property while City of Dreams remains focused on premium mass. One indication of the difference is the classification of both Studio City hotel towers as four star facilities. However, Mr Ho says the hotels, “for international standards are beyond five star,” and the four star designation resulted from technicalities in Macau government regulations.

The all-suite Star Tower has 602 rooms ranging from Star Premier Kings at 65 square meters to the Star Grand Suite at 185 square meters. All Star Tower rooms feature a 55 inch LCD high definition television and Blu-Ray DVD player, coffee machine, rain shower and separate bathtub.

Room packages with breakfast, Batman and Golden Reel tickets for two start at MOP$1,698 for weeknights and MOP$1,848 for weekends.

The Celebrity Tower with nearly 1,000 rooms is reserved for tour groups, with smaller rooms and fewer amenities, although it is still comfortable.

Hotel guests have access to Studio City’s indoor and outdoor pools, the latter with a white sand beach. The outdoor pool deck on level three also offers River Scape, a three route tube floating ride. The Aqua Play children’s pool has a trio of waterslides.

Each tower has a fitness center and there’s a beauty salon and Zensa Spa with vitality pools, saunas, steam and snow rooms.

On the ground floor, The Boulevard at Studio City boasts 65 retail shops which ring the casino and link the hotel towers. Run by Taubman Asia, The Boulevard skews heavily toward global luxury brands and fashion-forward labels including Macau’s first outlets for clothier Balmain and British outerwear specialist Bellstaff, as well as Asia Pacific’s largest Tom Ford.

The most impressive section of the shopping mall is made up like a sound stage. Modelled on the famous Times Square in New York, here you’ll find New York sewer covers, an authentically copied fire hydrant and a Times Square subway entrance. It’s just a shame it only covers about one third of the mall – the rest is standard Macau marble with shops selling the usual US$150 tee shirts, US$6,000 handbags and US$18,000 watches.

The resort does provide a new and much-needed addition to Macau’s nightlife with East Asia’s first Pacha, the renowned Ibiza nightclub that has now spread to six continents.

Studio City boasts more than 30 food and beverage outlets that run the gamut from world renowned chefs to out of this world fast food at Cosmos Food Station, complete with holographic projections of deep space.

Signature restaurants include Michelin starred chef Tam Kwok Fung’s Pearl Dragon presenting provincial Chinese dishes, Trattoria Il Mulino bringing chef Michele Mazza’s casual chic Italian from its New York flagship and chef Hide Yamamoto’s eponymous four concept Japanese restaurant with fish flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukji market for sushi, plus teppanyaki, robata and ramen.

Pierre Herme, known as the Picasso of Pastry, has brought his renowned macaroons and chocolates to The Boulevard. Next year, Hawaiian celebrity chef Alan Wong and chef Ducasse will join the cast.

At the casual end and in line with Macau authorities’ desire that gaming properties support the city’s small and medium enterprises, Macau Gourmet Walk features homegrown favorites such as pork chop buns and egg tarts, along with outlets of bakeries Yeng Kee and Choi Heong Yuen producing signature souvenir sweets.

There is no doubt Studio City stands out from the crowd. And although the direction it takes might come as a surprise to Macau’s gaming traditionalists, it does so very much with an eye to the future.

“We hope Studio City will be a catalyst to turn the market around,” Mr Ho explained. “When you invest $3.2 billion, you’re looking at the next 10 years.”

In that regard, Studio City is banking on its location as well as future infrastructure development to make it a hit. The 3.1 hectare site sits at the foot of the Lotus Bridge border crossing from Hengqin Island and will eventually have a Macau light rail stop at its doorstep, both expected to generate a lot of traffic in coming years.

Time will tell if Studio City does indeed lead the march towards a new Macau.

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