Playboy Mansion to launch in China's gambling resort of Macau

The Playboy Mansion is coming to Macau.

After opening a club at the Palms Resort in Las Vegas in October, Hugh Hefner plans to take on gambling's next frontier with a Macau venue complete with female "bunny" dealers in revealing dress, his daughter said Tuesday.

The 3,600 square meter (40,000-square feet) Playboy Mansion Macau will feature a pool and grotto, restaurants, several dozen gaming tables and a villa-style hotel, drawing its inspiration from the original Playboy Mansion in the U.S., known worldwide for its glamorous parties, Playboy Enterprises Inc. Chief Executive Christie Hefner told reporters.

She said the new mansion, scheduled to open in late 2009, will take up twice the space of the new Las Vegas club.

Playboy, which sells clothing at 620 outlets in China and runs boutiques in Bangkok and Tokyo, hopes to capitalize on the brand's appeal in Asia and the rosy prospects of the world's biggest gaming market.

Macau, located an hour by high-speed ferry west of Hong Kong, has seen its gambling revenue grow rapidly since the government ended a monopoly in 2002, letting in Las Vegas casino brands like the Wynn and Sheldon Adelson's Sands and Venetian.

It overtook the Las Vegas Strip in gaming revenue last year.

"Asia ... is a very important region for us," Christie Hefner said. She said Playboy, which reported a loss in 2005 and earned profit of only US$2.3 million (euro1.7 million) in 2006, sold US$800 million (euro594 million) in retail consumer products last year, with 40 percent coming from Asia.

Hefner, who declined to say how much the new mansion will cost, said gambling fits with Playboy's core adult entertainment business.

"Well-regulated gaming, whether it's in Las Vegas or Macau, is a natural adjunct of the Playboy lifestyle," she said.

The executive dismissed worries that Playboy's presence in Macau will feed into the seedy image of a city also known for its shady nightlife and prostitution.

"Whatever negative connotations that may have existed in the past around Macau have long been supplanted by this rebirth," she said, noting the Wynn and Venetian casinos.

The new mansion also gives Playboy a key foothold in China. As the only place on Chinese soil where gambling is legal, Macau draws many tourists from the mainland who can't bet at home.

Playboy tried but failed to build a club in Shanghai. Plans fell apart in 2004 ostensibly over a disagreement between investors and local officials over how to value the amount of the investment, but some questioned whether the proposed club offended the Chinese government's conservative line on public morality.

While Playboy can sell men's wear in China, its magazine is banned.

Playboy Mansion Macau will be part of the planned US$2 billion (euro1.5 billion) Macau Studio City, a 333,000 square meter (3.7 million square foot) complex that combines casinos, shopping malls, hotels, movie sets and TV studios.

Macau Studio City is a joint venture between Hong Kong-listed eSun Holdings and U.S.-based New Cotai LLC.

Taubman Asia, a unit of U.S.-based retail mall developer Taubman Centers Inc., will develop its shops, and U.S.-listed Melco PBL Entertainment (Macau) Ltd., one of six gambling license holders in Macau, will help manage the casino.

Playboy's new Las Vegas and Macau properties mark its return to a once-successful club operation as its traditional businesses - video sales and magazines - struggle.

At its height, Playboy ran 22 clubs in cities from Chicago and New York to Tokyo and Manila. The clubs had all closed by 1991, with interest dampened by feminism and proliferation of adult content.