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Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn

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A Las Vegas-based casino company has taken the lead in a race to become the first international casino operator to list in Hong Kong, taking advantage of renewed investor appetite for stocks with links to the world's biggest gambling market.Wynn Resorts, controlled by Steve Wynn, hopes to float a minimum 25 per cent interest in its Macao operations.

The spin-off is expected to raise $1bn-$2bn by the end of this year.

However, people involved in the transaction cautioned that "the total amount [sought] is not clear".Wynn Resorts has submitted a preliminary filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

The application gives Mr Wynn a head start on his rival Sheldon Adelson, whose Las Vegas Sands is mulling a similar Hong Kong initial public offering for its Macao assets.

Las Vegas Sands has invested more aggressively in the Chinese special administrative region, opening the world's two largest casinos there, but has been struggling to service its debts.

Wynn Resorts' IPO application comes despite figures, released on Monday by Macao's gaming regulator, that showed that first-half gaming revenues fell 12 per cent year-on-year to 51.4bn patacas ($6.4bn)..The Chinese government, concerned that Macao's gaming industry was growing too fast, has made it more difficult for its citizens to obtain visas to visit the former Portuguese enclave.Macao gaming revenues rose in five years â€" from 41.4bn patacas in 2004 to 108.7bn last year â€" making the market bigger than rivals Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined."This is not controlled by the company but by the Chinese government â€" the government can increase the visa numbers," said one person involved in the IPO.

"But no one doubts the dogged determination of the Chinese gambler."Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and their advisers are betting that investors will focus on Macao's long-term future as China's only legal gambling destination.

While the territory is on track to record its first annual fall in casino revenues since the industry was liberalised in 2002, table capacity is expected to increase 25 per cent by the end of the year.UBS, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are advising Wynn Resorts.

The company and its sponsors declined to comment.The Macao gaming flagships of Sociedade de Jogos de Macau and Galaxy Entertainment are already listed on the territory's bourse.

Shares in both companies have rebounded sharply from lows reached late last year.The benchmark Hang Seng Index has also soared 72 per cent since March, closing on Tuesday at 19,501.73.

PwC estimates that companies will raise HK$100bn ($12.9bn) through Hong Kong IPOs this year.
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