THE WIZARD OF MA­CAU

FLAM­BOY­ANT CHI­NESE EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR STEPHEN HUNG PLANS TO TRANS­FORM THE DRAB GAM­BLING MECCA OF MA­CAU WITH AN OP­U­LENT AND EX­TRAV­A­GANT CASINO RE­SORT AIMED AT CHINA’S UL­TRA-RICH.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Arts -

Out­side Hong Kong’s his­toric Penin­sula Ho­tel one re­cent week­day af­ter­noon, two men com­pare their Bent­leys. A gun­metal grey edi­tion with the reg­is­tra­tion plate “Iron Man” looks pos­i­tively un­der­stated next to a fiery-red model whose gold paint flecks and bon­net or­na­ment coated in 100 carats of di­a­monds sparkle in the sun. That ve­hi­cle, worth about $US1 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 trousers 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 jew­eller’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.

“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 $US10m — 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 in Asia. 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 ride away from Hong Kong, the gam­bling cen­tre 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 its rev­enue bal­loons, Ma­cau has never re­ally en­tered into the global con­scious­ness in the same way as has Las Ve­gas, with its Rat Pack her­itage, or Monte Carlo, with its panache and pricey yachts. 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-storey, 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 1858sq m abode that will cost nearly $US130,000 a night.

Stephen Hung, with wife Deb­o­rah Valdez-Hung, plans to build the world’s most lux­u­ri­ous casino re­sort in Ma­cau, with suites for up to $US130,000 a night

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