CASINOS Austria International, an Australian casino management and investment company, plans to launch a private investment fund to raise at least A$20 million (about HK$118.4 million) for an Asian expansion programme. The Sydney-listed company is eager to enter the regional market, encouraged by its experience at its three Australian casinos, where Asians constitute about 90 per cent of the players. The company intends to set up at least two medium-sized casinos over the next four years in two Asian countries. The company is also to launch an investment fund to attract Asian institutional investors into the casino business and partly finance the new casino projects. Casinos Austria International director and chief executive officer Alexander Tucek said he believed the proposed investment fund would raise $20 million to $100 million and the company was negotiating with underwriters over the terms of the fund. Mr Tucek declined to disclose the forecast yield of the fund but said details would be announced by the end of June. Part of the proceeds would be used to finance the new casinos while the rest would be invested in other operations under the company's portfolio. The company, listed on the Sydney Stock Exchange since December 1994, manages three medium-sized casinos in Australia, and owns one. It also manages two casinos in Egypt and two in Latin America, as well as five shipboard casinos in Florida, United States. Consolidated operating profit for the company for the 1994 financial year was $8.44 million. Gross revenue from the gambling operations was $6.81 million. The company said the two Asian casinos were expected to cost about $200 million, and it was hoped the investment fund would contribute about 30 to 35 per cent of that sum. Casinos Austria planned to take a stake of between 10 and 15 per cent in the projects, with the remaining funding to come from bank loans. Mr Tucek said that Vietnam and Burma were favoured locations for the new casinos, because of the relative ease of obtaining a gambling licence there. He said that the group was still considering other possible sites in the region, including Malaysia and Taiwan. 'It all depends on the Vietnamese legislation. 'Vietnam has already had one casino and we hope that the government will allow another one. We are also looking at a potential project in Myanmar [Burma],' he said. Talks had already taken place with potential partners, including government organisations, private property developers and hotel and resort owners, he said. The casinos were likely to be opened as part of a hotel or holiday resort development in order to attract tourists, as well as local players. 'Gambling is part of Asian culture and 90 per cent of the players in [Australia's] top market casinos are Asians,' Mr Tucek said. He said the majority of the players were ethnic Chinese from Indonesia, followed by Taiwanese, Singaporean and Hong Kong Chinese. Turnover in the Australian gambling industry was valued between $3.5 and $4 billion in 1992-93, with profit of $657 million.