Sands licenses DreamWorks characters for Macau casino in sign of China market luring studios

MACAU, Macau – Kung Fu Panda, Shrek and other DreamWorks characters are coming to a new attraction at Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Chinese casino resorts, the companies said Tuesday, in the latest sign of China’s growing importance to Hollywood studios.

Sands China Ltd. is licensing DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.’s stable of animated characters for use at the gambling company’s resorts in the former Portuguese colony of Macau starting July 1.

The deal is also a sign of how authorities in Macau, now a self-governing Chinese region that has become the world’s biggest casino market, want to diversify the economy away from gambling after years of hypercharged growth.

The companies said there will be an array of themed interactive experiences. One idea could involve guests having “breakfast, lunch or dinners with some of our characters in a highly themed way,” said Yoshi Maruyama, DreamWorks’ global head of location-based entertainment.

The companies would not disclose financial details such as the investment amount or how long the agreement would run.

DreamWorks last year set up a $330 million joint venture with three Chinese companies to make animated and live action content and the venture is producing the third installment of the “Kung Fu Panda” series. It’s one of a number of Hollywood studios that, faced with stagnant growth at the box office back home, have set their sights on the rapidly growing film market in China, which raked in $2.7 billion last year to become the world’s second-biggest movie market. Studios are also adding Chinese scenes and characters to big-budget blockbusters to make them more acceptable to local audiences.

The new attraction will be based at the company’s newest resort, Sands Cotai Central, one of three operated by the company on the Cotai Strip, an area of reclaimed land that’s modeled on the Las Vegas Strip. It will be open to both hotel guests and casino visitors.

Maruyama said the deal is aimed at families and would not involve Sands’ gambling business. He said DreamWorks’ movie characters are very popular in China, noting that “Kung Fu Panda 2” is the top-grossing animated movie of all time in China.

Macau was handed back to China in 1999 and is the only place in the country where casino gambling is legal.

Macau has about three dozen casinos that raked in a total of $38 billion last year, 13.5 per cent more than in 2011. Much of the growth has come from wealthy high-rollers from mainland China, whose trips are organized by junket operators — middleman companies that lend money and collect debts. Some junkets also have a reputation for being associated with organized crime. But leaders are eager for the tiny enclave to shed its reputation for seediness and corruption and draw more middle-class Chinese families.


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