Massive mountaintop integrated resort gets breath of fresh air with multibillion dollar makeover.
Resorts World Genting lifts visitors 1,865 metres (6,118 feet) into the clouds, average temperature 17 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Fahrenheit), 10 degrees cooler than Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur 58 kilometres (36 miles) to the south.
Set amid largely undisturbed 130-million-year-old rain forest, RW Genting also transports guests into the past, present and future of Asia’s first, biggest and most unique integrated resort.
“Resorts World Genting is a very appealing destination resort that happens to also have a very large casino,” Euro-Asia Consulting president and CEO Steve Karoul says.
Perched on Mount Ulu Kali, RW Genting’s built area tops 13 million square feet (1.2 million square metres). With seven hotels, 10,500 guests rooms from cheeky to chic, Malaysia’s only casino floors total more than a million square feet. There’s even more retail space, theme parks, a 5,000-seat arena, convention centre, dozens of food and beverage options and two cable car systems.
The entire hilltop complex can be traversed indoors, in deference to frequent mountain showers.
The IR targets domestic and regional gamers, as well as the Muslim majority of Malaysia’s 33 million citizens barred from gaming.
“We try to position our products to appeal to all segments of the society, all price segments,” RW Genting president and COO Lee Thiam Kit says over breakfast at plush Crockfords, the IR’s newest hotel. Opened in 2017, it is part of a decade-long multibillion dollar upgrade.
Asked to assess the current state of the IR, Lee invokes company patriarch Lim Goh Tong, who began constructing a road up the mountain from the town of Genting Sempeh in 1965.
There’s no escaping history at RW Genting with the founder’s son, Lim Kok Thay, serving as chairman and chief executive of KL-listed Genting Berhad, the conglomerate’s umbrella entity.
RW Genting’s corporate parent, KL-listed Genting Malaysia, also has properties in the UK, Egypt, New York, Florida and the Bahamas plus two Malaysia beach resorts. Singapore-listed Genting Singapore operates Resorts World Sentosa. Resorts World Las Vegas resides under Genting Berhad, along with energy and plantations subsidiaries.
Halfway up the mountain along the now-four-lane highway evolved from Lim Goh Tong’s feat, there’s Gohtong Jaya township. Just past the IR entrance gate, we find Lim Goh Tong Memorial Hall commemorating his life. This is the site of his interment in 2007 at age 89. Since the centennial of Lim Goh Tong’s birth in 2018, Genting celebrates Founder’s Day every February 28.
Further up the hill, a statue of Lim Goh Tong overlooks Chin Swee Caves Temple, housing a deity from his hometown Anxi in China’s Fujian province.
Nightly on the hilltop, a section of SkyWorlds’ theme park transforms into Gohtong Way, featuring street food and fountain shows under the stars.
Beyond the founder, the original Genting Casino takes visitors back to the IR’s 1971 opening. The main floor’s central rotunda evokes Macau’s Casino Lisboa birdcage of similar vintage.
SkyWorlds Hotel debuted back then as Highlands Hotel with boxy rooms and no air conditioning. Most recently renovated in 2017 it still has ceiling fans and sharp corners. Accommodations include kid-sized desks and play spaces, bunk beds for larger families, funky phones and stick figures painted in black on white walls.
Throughout RW Genting, at every price point, guest rooms are well-designed, comfortable and practical.
The hotel sits on the doorstep of SkyWorlds theme park. Planned to open in 2018 in partnership with Fox Studios, the park descended into legal morass when Disney acquired Fox’s entertainment properties in 2017.
The park became a new front in the long running clash with Disney over expanding gaming to Genting’s Miami waterfront holdings. The park issue was settled in 2019, then Covid delayed construction.
Opened in February 2022, SkyWorlds’ two dozen attractions feature Fox franchises Ice Age, Night at the Museum, Rio, Planet of the Apes, Robots, Epic and Independence Day across 26 acres (10.5 hectares). SkyWorlds offers free tickets for a return visit in case of rain.
SkyWorlds headlines the recently completed Genting Integrated Tourism Plan, a MYR10bn (US$2.1bn) initiative, announced in 2013 at MYR5bn (US$1.55bn then) and doubled in 2016.
Over a decade, GITP also added Skytropolis indoor theme park. The two parks comprised 40% of total spending.
Further GITP improvements include a second cable car system from mid-hill to mountaintop, upgrades to shopping areas Sky Avenue and Genting Highlands Premium Outlets, constructing Crockfords plus a third tower for First World Hotel, again the world’s largest at 7,347 rooms, and renovating other hotels.
On a busy Sunday afternoon, Sky Avenue’s central plaza features multi-storey screens showing in-house produced cartoons amid top-end shopping and wide ranging F&B. With more video panels above adjacent Skytropolis, it’s a wholesome, indoor version of downtown Las Vegas’ Fremont Street Experience.
GITP shaped RW Genting’s present, aiming to keep pace with regional competitors and broaden its appeal, particularly to Malaysian Muslims. “The majority was spent on non-gaming,” Lee says. “The growth rate of non-gaming is higher. With investment, now there are bigger [non-gaming] returns.”
Sky high gaming
Opened in 2017, SkyCasino (as Genting writes it) resembles the gaming floor at Marina Bay Sands. The casino is replete with high ceilings, lighting and surveillance trees above gaming pits and a balcony level. Sky has 70% of the resort’s 600 gaming tables, 2,000 slots and 1,300 electronic gaming terminals (including tablets that can access ETG nodes resort-wide). This is about 75% of pre-Covid capacity.
The shortfall traces to closure of Genting 2 casino near the original. That floor could reopen if demand warrants and a tight labour market permits, but management has no plans to expand gaming space.
Top games are baccarat, roulette and sic bo, with betting on totals and combinations from three dice. Mass floors have pontoon while premium areas offer blackjack, with house-versus-player poker games throughout. Sky’s Texas Hold’em area has 10 tables, expandable for tournaments. Stadium clusters with hundreds of terminals host live dealer and automated games.
Minimum bets start at MYR10, about US$2, for sic bo, MYR50 for roulette and MYR100 for card games. On the main floor squeeze baccarat starts at MYR300. ETG minimums run as low as MYR10.
From 2020, RW Genting scrapped ticket in-ticket out (TITO) and converted player cards into ewallets. All machine play requires cards, with white label cards available for non-members. Member cards can also fund table play and purchases around the resort.
While moving toward cashless, machines and tables still accept cash, but machine payouts are only by card. Players can deposit and withdraw ewallet funds at terminals around the casino floor or cages.
Cards determine player status, with 500 Genting points, representing spending of MYR50,000, the VIP threshold. About 30% of tables are for VIPs.
Management wants to funnel mass gaming to Sky’s ground and balcony levels with premium areas above. Crockfords, an internationally recognised five star property, connects to Sky’s premium area through its own Crockford’s Platinum Club.
However, most premium play occurs in private areas at the Genting Casino end of the property. This is where Genting Grand and Highlands hotels primarily host gaming guests in regionally competitive high-end accommodations. Junkets, predominantly from Southeast Asia, don’t have dedicated rooms. VVIPs can choose from four helipads.
Maybank analyst Samuel Yin Shao Yang estimates RW Genting GGR this year at MYR6.2bn (US$1.3bn), reaching 2019’s MYR7.2bn in 2024.
GGR at 86% of 2019 fits with RW Genting’s first half visitation of 11.8 million, 84% of 2019. Malaysia leisure and hospitality revenue (Genting doesn’t fully break out results by property) for the first nine months of this year hit 85% of 2019 with EBITDA at 94%, aided by 33% margins, three percentage points better than 2019. Hotel occupancy is 96% versus 95% in 2019.
“Even without the full resumption of China tourists, we’re 90%-95% of pre-pandemic,” Lee, who began his career in investment banking, says.
Despite China’s current challenges, “Over time, it’s a market we cannot ignore,” Lee says. “We could see some changes in profile of visitors from China. There used to be a lot of economy tours. But the high end will still be there. Not so worried about that.”
China has never been vital to RW Genting’s success, though. “Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, China, India are our five largest foreign markets,” Lee says. Sources estimate Malaysia and Singapore, a four-and-a-half-hour drive, account for 85% of visitors.
“The property has always been pitched at the Malaysian and Singapore markets,” Euro Pacific Asia Consulting managing partner Shaun McCamley says. “With access to such a huge and supportive local market, I can understand why that’s where the emphasis is.”
Lee isn’t concerned about the US$7 billion expansion of Singapore’s two IRs. “If you look through our history, when Macau opened, people worried about us. When Singapore opened, people worried about us. In fact, the market is big enough and is growing.”
On the prospect of a gaming ban in Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion, Lee cites the 16,000 employees at RW Genting and some 50,000 jobs the IR supports. “We’ve spoken to different governments. They try to understand how to enter the IR business and get the economic benefits. Our experience has shown that one facility can do that.” Additionally, Genting Malaysia paid taxes of MYR325m in 2022.
You call this a monopoly?
As for the possibility of a domestic competitor ending its Malaysian monopoly, Lee says, “We’re not really a monopoly. We have competition from Singapore and Macau in gaming. In lifestyle, we compete with every shopping mall in town.”
Looking ahead, Lee says: “The casino is obviously an important part of the business, but we see a lot of growth coming from the lifestyle part of the business.
“We look at the Muslim majority of the population and we see a huge opportunity for growth.”
He adds: “Post pandemic, there’s some softness in the [middle] 40% and [bottom] 40% of the economy. But that doesn’t change a long term trend for people to embrace lifestyle products.”
Lee cites Malay Muslims’ spending data from Genting Highlands Premium Outlets. “[It] gives us a lot of confidence and conviction in our path,” Lee says.
The outlet centre with about 125 brand name shops sits at what Genting calls mid-hill. It’s the lower terminus of the cable car, with Chin Swee Caves Temple and Hilltop stations above. There’s a parking and transport hub. Below it, not within easy walking distance but served by shuttle vans, is Resorts World Awana. This is the IR’s only hotel below the hilltop.
Opened in 1984, Awana stands alone amid the forest. It has no gaming and serves only halal food, making it popular for business meetings, functions and events. But there’s potential for more.
“Awana is going through a face lift,” Lee says. “We’re positioning it as an ecotourism product with farms for use at the property, hiking trails.” Sustainability initiatives include adding solar panels and obtaining internationally recognised green certification.
Rooms from renovation of Awana’s original hotel block will be available from February, eventually lifting the key count to 400.
Mystical Orchid Forest is sprouting from a decades-old employee hostel. It reuses existing structures and materials for F&B outlets and event space beside a greenhouse and man-made lake. Completion is scheduled for next year’s third quarter.
Further floral projects include rose and sunflower gardens, each with stingless bee hives producing honey for children of all ages to harvest. Awana’s hot pot restaurant grows its own greens, picked fresh to order.
Awana golf course’s front nine holes are under reconstruction with the back nine open for play, to be reconstructed next. Completion is scheduled for early 2025.
That timing may coincide with the opening of Awana Village featuring a golf clubhouse and, separated from the hotel, non-halal food outlets. There’s interest in working with Chinese tourism sites to capitalise on Awana’s natural setting.
The hotel’s “tropical lifestyle dining” and poolside lounge, Awana Ayu, is part of Zouk Group. The Singapore nightclub brand has six nightlife concepts on the RW Genting hilltop.
Genting Hong Kong, holding Genting’s cruise businesses and joint venture stake in Resorts World Manila (now Newport World Resorts), acquired Zouk in 2015. When Genting HK went bankrupt in 2020, it sold Zouk for US$10.2m to a company headed by Lim Keong Hui, now Zouk’s executive chairman.
Lim – grandson of Lim Goh Tong and son of Lim Kok Thay – currently serves as deputy CEO and executive director for both Genting Berhad and Genting Malaysia. Welcome to the future of RW Genting and family. Seems only natural.
Former US diplomat and current iGB Asia editor at large Muhammad Cohen has covered the casino business in Asia since 2006, most recently for Forbes, and wrote Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about TV news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.