SM in talks with Macau tycoons on casino projectBy Doris C. Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The group of tycoon Henry Sy is in talks to bring in Melco Crown Entertainment, operator of Macau’s City of Dreams entertainment complex, aboard the $1-billion casino-hotel project of leisure estate and gaming unit Belle Corp.
SM Investments Corp. investor relations chief Cora Guidote and Belle vice chairman Willy Ocier confirmed on Wednesday a report in Australia that the group was in discussions with Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, son of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung Sun, and Australian billionaire James Packer, who co-own Melco.
The discussions suggest a plan to expand the existing casino consortium beyond Belle and its original partner, Leisure and Resorts World Corp. (LR).
Shares of all existing parties involved in the project sizzled at the stock market on Wednesday on news of the prospective deal with the Macau tycoons. SMIC and Belle went up by 2.54 percent and 8.11 percent, respectively, to P728 and P5.20 per share.
Shares of LR, which Ocier said would remain part of the consortium even if new investors were to come in, surged by 20.94 percent to close at P7.97 per share.
In a text message, Ocier said Belle was in talks to bring in these prospective partners “to strengthen consortium” and come up with a “world-class” project.
Guidote said the discussions were about the casino project that Belle, which is majority-owned by the Sy family, would open sometime next year.
“They’re just in talks. Nothing has been finalized,” Guidote said.
Asked how much stake the group would be willing to give to Melco, Ocier said the parties were “still talking.”
Melco is an owner and developer of casino gaming and entertainment resort facilities in Macau. Its subsidiary, Melco Crown Gaming (Macau) Ltd., is one of only six companies granted concessions or sub-concessions to operate casinos in Macau. Its flagship project, City of Dreams, is an integrated urban entertainment resort with stylish nightclubs, 1,400 luxury guest rooms, chic dining, designer brand shopping, a contemporary casino and The House of Dancing Water.
A report in Australia said Ho and Packer were flying to Manila to visit the project site. The integrated tourism-gaming complex Belle Grande is being constructed on more than six hectares of land in a central area in the Aseana Business Park in Parañaque City. It will have a total gaming area of 1.8 hectares surrounded by food-and-beverage outlets and luxury retail stores.
Belle has deployed about $550 million for the development of the casino, hotel, condotel and theater complex while LR was supposed to contribute $200 million for casino fit-out and working capital. The integrated gaming resort complex, between Macapagal Avenue and Roxas Boulevard, will offer 19,626 square meters of gaming space. The first floor will be devoted to the mass market while 6,000 sqm will be reserved for VIP gamers. It will have 350 tables and 1,900 slot machines.
The facility will also include six hotel towers with a combined 1,000 rooms, including 88 luxury suites.
Belle was awaiting an additional P3-billion fund-raising by LR to build the hotel portfolio required by the government. LR was supposed to undertake a second round of financing to meet the front-loading of expenses arising from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.’s requirement that an 800-room hotel must be up and running before the casino itself can start operations.
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