James Packer’s Crown Resorts Reduces Stake In Macau Business
Australian casino tycoon James Packer has decided to reduce his stake in the joint venture company Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., signaling his reducing engagement with the Macau casino market.
Packer’s Crown Asia Investments joined hands with Lawrence Ho’s Melco International Development to operate casinos in Macau in 2004, forming Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd.
Earlier this week Crown sold shares worth $US 800 million back to Melco International Development. As a result Packer will step down as the co-chairman of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. and become its deputy chairman.
Under the transaction, Melco will buy 155 million ordinary shares from Crown Asia Investments at $5.166 or approximately $15.50 per ADS, which would be a premium of 16 percent over the latest closing price. The sale will result in the reduction of Crown’s share in the joint venture from 34 percent to 27 percent while the share of Melco International Development will go up to 37.9 percent. Public shareholding is currently at 34.7 percent.
Todd Nisbet, executive vice president for Crown will give up his seat on the board of Melco. The board will now comprise of three Melco representatives, two nominees from Crown and four independent directors with Ho functioning as chairman.
Crown said that it intended to maintain a significant presence in Melco Crown adding that the selloff would help the company pay down its debt and consequently protect its credit rating.
Commenting on the transaction, Ho said that Crown continued to be a major shareholder in the company, and further stated that Melco remained convinced of Macau’s potential as a gaming destination. Although there have been signs of stabilization in Macau’s casino market, it continues to reel from the slump in casino revenue.
Recent industry data for April revealed that casino gambling revenue for the market dropped for the 23rd straight month though it was less than expected. The Chinese crackdown on corruption as well as the slowdown in the country’s economy has kept away high rollers, causing a major shift in the market.
Casino operators including Melco have had to focus on developing facilities to cater to mass market gamblers and family tourists rather than VIP gamblers. Towards the end of 2015, Melco opened its multi-billion dollar Hollywood-themed resort casino ‘Studio City’ which touts a virtual Batman ride and a giant Ferris wheel.
The mass market although less lucrative than the VIP segment has higher margins for the casinos, since they do not need to pay commission to junkets and also allows them to reduce their operational costs.