Casino bosses' HK$3.5b winning streak

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 12:00am

Soaring volumes from high-stakes gamblers saw profits nearly quadruple last year at SJM Holdings, the Macau casino operator formerly controlled by Stanley Ho Hung-sun.

SJM's VIP chip sales, a measure of bets placed on private baccarat tables by high-rollers, rose 85.6 per cent to HK$1.33 trillion last year.

That represents an average of HK$3.65 billion wagered every day - more than the average daily value of trading in shares of HSBC Holdings on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last year.

For the past three months, control of SJM was the focus of bitter in-fighting among Ho's 16 surviving children from four wives. Ho twice filed - and twice withdrew - lawsuits against some of them.

Following a disputed December share transfer, Ho's former stake in the casino firm is now ultimately controlled by his third wife Ina Chan Un Chan and second wife Lucina Laam King-ying's five children: Pansy Ho Chiu-king, Daisy Ho Chiu-fung, Maisy Ho Chiu-ha, Josie Ho Chiu-yee and Lawrence Ho Yau-lung.

Ho and feuding relatives last week announced the battle for control of his vast fortune had been resolved. But industry observers questioned whether the truce would hold.

The stakes are high, and growing. SJM yesterday said it booked record net profits of HK$3.56 billion, up nearly fourfold from HK$906.7 million in recession-hit 2009.

Revenue surged 68 per cent to HK$57.65 billion, with gaming revenue accounting for 99.2 per cent of the total. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) rose 113 per cent to HK$4.84 billion. Analysts had forecast a profit of HK$3.36 billion and an ebitda of HK$4.75 billion.

SJM's haul was driven by VIP gaming volumes, which rely on junket agents - the middlemen who bring high-rollers to Macau casinos, issue them with credit for gambling and collect their debts in exchange for a hefty commission that generally exceeds 40 per cent of VIP casino revenue.

VIP gaming accounted for 67.9 per cent of SJM's total casino revenue last year, up from 58.8 per cent in 2009. The boost was partly due to an increase in supply - of deep-pocketed mainland gamblers, but also of VIP gaming tables.

SJM said it had 507 VIP tables operating at the end of last year, up from 320 a year earlier.

The Ho family dispute over control of SJM broke out following a contested December share transfer that saw the ailing 89-year-old lose control of a key Hong Kong holding company, Lanceford, to third wife Chan and the five children of second wife Laam.

Lanceford holds a controlling 31.6 per cent stake in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), which has investments from Vietnam to Portugal including a majority 56 per cent stake in SJM.

SJM said yesterday it would pay a record final dividend of 30 HK cents per share, up from 9 HK cents a year earlier. That represents a total payout of HK$1.64 billion - about HK$920 million of which will go to STDM.