Dore and A-Max to invest HK$4.8b in VIP junkets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2007, 12:00am

Macau gaming investors target high-rollers market

Macau gaming investors Dore Holdings and A-Max Holdings yesterday announced two separate deals worth a combined HK$4.8 billion as they seek to cash in on the enclave's white-hot market for high-rolling gamblers.

The two firms are investing in VIP gaming junkets attached to Las Vegas Sands Corp's US$2.4 billion Venetian casino resort and Melco PBL Entertainment's US$583.6 million Crown Macau, according to stock exchange filings and industry sources.

Dore, formerly Teem Foundation Group, said it would pay HK$993.6 million for a 60 per cent stake in Nove Sociedade Unipessoal, a high rollers' junket owned by Chen Yi-ming that controls 14 baccarat tables in the VIP gaming area of the newly opened Venetian.

Dore already invests in VIP gambling junkets attached to the Wynn and Sands casinos. The latest deal, to be settled in cash, convertible bonds and new shares, is the firm's largest yet.

The company also has a 12-month call option to buy the remaining 40 per cent stake in Nove for HK$806.4 million.

A-Max, which has a 49.9 per cent stake in VIP operator Ng Man-sun's Greek Mythology casino, said it would issue HK$3 billion worth of new shares to fund a loan to Ace High, a private firm controlled by Francisco Xavier Albino, a 10-year veteran of Greek Mythology who works as an administrative co-ordinator.

Ace High will use the loan to finance the operations of its subsidiary AMA International, which will in turn act as an umbrella firm representing 10 Macau VIP junket agents whose combined gross sales of gambling chips average HK$77.4 billion per month, according to a stock exchange announcement.

The loan gives A-Max an option to take control of Ace High by forcing it to issue new shares representing 99.99 per cent of its enlarged capital to A-Max.

AMA signed an agreement on August 21 with an unnamed 'gaming operator', which will pay the umbrella firm a higher than average commission of 1.2 to 1.35 per cent on gross gambling chip sales made by the 10 junkets, according to the announcement.

Industry sources yesterday identified the gaming operator as the joint-venture between Melco International Development and Australia's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd, whose Crown Macau casino debuted in May and positions itself as a premium product for high-rollers.

A spokesperson for Melco International did not respond to requests for comment.

Macau's recent casino boom has been largely driven by junket operators, the marketing agents who bring in high-rollers, lend them money and collect their gambling debts in exchange for a fixed commission on their gross sales of VIP gaming chips.

The enclave's revenues from VIP baccarat soared 58.3 per cent in the second quarter to 13.2 billion patacas and accounted for 67.5 per cent of all casino winnings in the territory, according to data from the territory's gaming regulator.

VIP baccarat in the first six months of the year accounted for 66.4 per cent of all casino revenues, up from 65 per cent last year and 62.7 per cent in 2005.

'Even before these deals, junket commission rates in Macau have been on the rise,' Credit Suisse analyst Gabriel Chan said.

Several Hong Kong-listed firms have recently expanded into Macau's casino junket business.

Film investor Charles Heung Wah-keung's China Star Entertainment said two weeks ago it would pay HK$1.05 billion in cash and convertible notes to buy a high-rollers' gambling junket attached to Stanley Ho Hung-sun's Grand Lisboa casino hotel. Earlier this year, Neptune Group, formerly Massive Resources International Corp, paid HK$240 million in two separate deals for minority interests in two junkets at the Galaxy StarWorld and Sands casinos.

But Dore's deal for the Venetian junket will be the first barometer to test the popularity of a Cotai Strip-style mega-resort among high-rollers. The Venetian features Macau's largest VIP casino area, with 38 private gaming rooms and more than 134 card tables. Las Vegas Sands management has said the company intends to leverage the attractions of the resort to lower the amount of commission paid to junkets to a flat 1.1 per cent rate.

Shares in Dore rose 9.69 per cent after yesterday's announcement to close at HK$3.17 per share. Shares in A-Max shed 4.72 per cent to close at 20.2 HK cents.