Investment bankers predict the Hong Kong stock exchange's recent decision to allow casino listings will provide a boost to the weak equity market. Joseph Chan, director of corporate finance at investment bank Oriental Patron, said the entry of gaming companies could help stimulate activity on the stock exchange. But he also said large United States merchant banks with experience in this field in global equity markets were likely to corner the resulting sponsorship business. 'This is a new ball game to us and small investment banks may lose out to the big corporate financiers,' he said. A Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing spokeswoman pointed out that America's three stock exchanges have attracted 59 casino operator listings. Great Britain and Canada have five listed casinos each and France nine. In the Asia-Pacific, six casinos are listed on the Australian stock exchange and one each in Malaysia and New Zealand. Jonas Kan, equity research director at Daiwa Securities, said it was too early to predict how much money international casino operators might raise from the local equity market. 'It will mainly depend on their need for capital to develop their projects and the pricing of their shares.' Mr Kan said the average historical price-earnings ratio for four major Las Vegas casino companies - MGM Mirage, Harrah's Entertainment, Park Place Entertainment and Argosy Gaming - ranged from 13.8 to 22.1 times earnings from 1995 to last year. But he believes a listing for the casino operators, particularly Stanley Ho Hung-sun's Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), could allow them to realise their asset values and reduce their risk exposure. STDM's principal business is gambling, which it operates through its 80 per cent-held subsidiary Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM). SJM holds one of the three Macau gaming licences and runs 11 casinos in the enclave. In addition to STDM, Wynn Resorts has also expressed interest in tapping Hong Kong's equity market. Wynn's planned resort in Macau will cost HK$4 billion, while STDM requires HK$4.8 billion for the development of a string of tourism, entertainment and culture-related projects. In a written reply to the South China Morning Post, Wynn Resorts chairman Steve Wynn said: 'We will certainly review our options and discuss the subject with our colleagues, the government of Macau and our institutional shareholders.' Analysts said they were not surprised by STDM's move. They noted that Mr Ho's recent decision to sell the Macau Jockey Club (MJC) - of which he is the majority shareholder - suggests he is keen to divest his gambling operations. The MJC was hurt by Hong Kong's ban on offshore betting, which came only one month after Mr Ho formally lost his 40-year monopoly on Macau's casino operations.