$4 billion Resorts World licensing looks like a sure thing

The next phase of Las Vegas starts today in, of all places, the Sawyer Building.

Nearly a dozen representatives and executives from Genting Berhad, the Malaysia-based company that acquired the unfinished Echelon project on the Strip for $350 million 14 months ago, will face questions from the Gaming Control Board.

The corporation and several of its entities seek a finding of suitability from Nevada casino authorities. Genting wants to build the $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas on the largely vacant 87-acre parcel and will proceed after it receives approval.

State gaming agents spent much of the past year investigating the multifaceted corporation, traveling to Malaysia, Singapore, London and New York. It might be the agency’s most expensive and largest probe ever.

The Echelon parcel once was home to the long-demolished Stardust. Genting’s project would result in the Strip’s first new megaresort in nearly a decade. Construction will incorporate much of the unfinished Echelon, which was shut down in 2008.

The hearing at the downtown state office building could take more than two hours. Expect an elaborate presentation on both the company and Resorts World.

If there are any issues with the application, they will be minor. The hearing will be thorough, and a comprehensive regulatory record will be made.

The bottom line?

Short of Genting’s entire board of directors being found to have ties to the Yakuza or Chinese organized crime triads, the company and its representatives will be found suitable by both the Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission, which will review the recommendation May 22.

Take that prediction to the bank.

Construction on the complex will start this year and result in some 2,000 to 3,000 construction jobs.

In March, Gov. Brian Sandoval, Clark County officials and local business leaders joined Genting Chairman KT Lim and other company executives in an over-the-top news conference at the offices of architects Steelman Partners to announce Resort World Las Vegas.

Sandoval said two months ago Genting officials had kept him apprised on the progress toward restarting the development.

“I have every confidence that they are moving forward,” Sandoval said in March on the one-year anniversary of the announcement.

Genting is a well-financed operation.

The company has a market capitalization of more than $40 billion, operates casinos around the world, including Resorts World properties in Singapore, Malaysia and Manila, Philippines, and at New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack. Genting has five separate publicly traded entities that operate casinos and other investments.

Genting isn’t shy about spending money in the United States.

A year before buying the Echelon site, Genting paid more than $400 million for 30 acres along Miami’s Biscayne Bay for the planned $3.8 billion Resorts World Miami, which was shelved after Florida lawmakers rejected casino expansion plans. The company is considering alternatives.

In April, Genting said it would bid on one of four casino licenses in upstate New York.

The company’s history and reputation might be one reason Sandoval hosted Lim and the Genting contingent on Labor Day weekend 2012 at the Star restaurant in Elko, where all dined on chorizo sandwiches. At the time, the company was considered its options.

Make no mistake, Sandoval wants Genting in Nevada and the unfinished Echelon site, a north Strip eyesore, made for a perfect development opportunity.

While the Resorts World Las Vegas site has sat seemingly untouched for more than a year, the company was working behind the scenes to move the project forward.

In a 2013 interview with Malaysian media, company officials stressed they wouldn’t move forward without completing the Nevada regulatory investigation, calling the process “one of the strictest you can get.”

Despite the conservative approach, Genting officials expressed confidence they would get a license and “commence the construction.”

Genting representatives today will offer elaborate details about Resorts World, maybe even repeating 2013’s suggestion that the development could include a live panda habitat.

A suitability finding is one step below licensing, which would have to be granted before the development opens in 2016 or 2017.

Either way, the next phase of Las Vegas growth and development opens today at the Sawyer Building.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz Twitter.

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