WHAT RECESSION? HONG KONG CATCHES MACAU IPO FEVER

Steve Wynn’s Wynn Resorts received approval last month for a US$1 billion public offering of shares in its Macau casino business.

Twenty percent of the company was scheduled to go on sale on the Hong Kong stock exchange with a listing planned for October 9, according to news reports.

The announcement comes on the heels of July’s $490 million IPO by Macau rival Stanley Ho and his SJM Holdings and is expected to be followed later this year with a listing by rival Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, as investor confidence appears to be returning to the East Asian gambling sector.

Proceeds of the Wynn sale will be used to expand in Macau, a process well under way with a $650 million, 400-room resort called Encore at Wynn Macau scheduled to open the first half of 2010. This is in addition to the company’s flagship 600-room Wynn Macau, which opened in 2006. The company also has identified a development site on approximately 52 acres of reclaimed land on the Cotai Strip. Palo Real Estate, which will be a Wynn subsidiary, has applied to the Macau government for the right to lease the parcel.

Macau is the largest pure casino market in the world, as measured by gambling revenue, but it has been severely challenged in recent months by the global recession and travel restrictions imposed in mainland China, the peninsula’s biggest feeder market. Casino win was down 12.5 percent in the first half to US$6.5 billion. But analysts say recent data suggests a strong recovery in the second half, supported by economic recovery in Hong Kong and China, an easier credit environment and improving consumer sentiment. In the meantime, gambling revenue in August hit a record high of 11.27 billion Macau patacas (US$1.4 billion), up 17 percent from a year earlier and up 18 percent from July.

Wynn Macau’s revenue was down 22 percent in the second quarter to US$410.4 million, which drove down pre-tax earnings by 24 percent compared to the same period last year.

CHINA'S LOTTERIES BREAK $10B. MARK

Through July, lottery sales in China so far this year have exceeded US$10.78 billion, a 21.2 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

Of the total, the social assistance lottery accounted for $6.14 billion in sales, an increase of 17.9 percent, according to figures released by the Ministry of Economy. Sports lottery sales hit $4.64 billion, an increase of 26 percent.

In July total lottery sales exceeded $1.58 billion, of which 57 percent was generated by the lottery of social assistance and 43 percent by the sports lottery.

PROFITS WAY DOWN, BUT SJM FEELS GOOD

Macau casino giant SJM Holdings blamed increased competition and visa restrictions on the Chinese mainland for a 40.8 percent drop in net income in the first half.

Profit was HK$338 million for the period (US$43.6 million), down from HK$571 in the first six months of 2008, on a 4.3 percent decline in gambling revenue to HK$14.79 billion (US$1.9 billion).

VIP revenue, which accounts for about 70 percent of casino win in Macau, was down 9.9 percent in the first half, but mass-market revenue rose by 4.6 percent, and SJM now claims 40.2 percent of that market. Overall, SJM managed to increase its market-leading share of all Macau casino revenues to 29.6 percent from 27.1 percent last year. And the company said the second half has “started well, with total gaming revenue in Macau rising significantly”.

Publicly traded SJM currently operates 20 of Macau’s 32 casinos, including its newest, L’Arc, which opened last month. It has another, Oceanus, due to open the end of the year.

With indications that mainland visa restrictions will be loosened, along with the local government’s decision to cap commission rates paid to junket operators, and with investors generally more relaxed than they’ve been in months, analysts expect the market will continue to improve.

RACING TURNOVER SHOWS HONG KONG IS ON THE MEND

In what is seen as a healthy signal for Hong Kong’s economy, residents of the populous island bet more than US$100 million on the first day of the 125th horse racing season.

Turnover at Sha Tin race course on opening day, Sunday, September 13, was HK$833 million (US$107.4 million), about HK$2 million more than last year.

Officials of the Hong Kong Jockey Club said they were pleased with the results and “cautiously optimistic” about the year ahead.

Racing income is seen as a reliable economic indicator in Hong Kong, where betting is feverish on horses, football and a weekly lottery. In the season that finished in July total turnover for 78 race days was down US$110 million to $8.6 billion compared with the previous season. In response, the Hong Kong government has given permission for five extra race days beginning with the new season.

VENETIAN MACAO TARGETS INDIA WITH MARKETING BLITZ

Responding to a marked increase in visitation to Macau from India, The Venetian Macao plans to open sales offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru by the end of the year.

Travel from India to the Chinese casino enclave has been up about 20 percent in recent months, according to STIC Travel Group.

FIT and conference travel are going strong in India despite the recession, STIC said. The MICE segment contributes about 40 percent of Indian arrivals to The Venetian Macao, according to the Web site HospitalitybizIndia. Total outbound travel from India totaled 9 million last year, and estimates are it will be the same this year.

“Since 2008, the hotel has seen a significant rise in Indian visitors,” said Mark Russell, Venetian Macao’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “While earlier India ranked 12th among our major source markets over the past six months it has risen to maintain the fifth position. Seeing the response from India we have decided to introduce dedicated efforts to target the market.”

The Venetian hosted the IIFA Awards 2009 in July, which helped increase its visibility in the Indian market. The property has seen a 60 percent growth in the number of visitors from India since the event, Russell said.

The hotel recently conducted a tour of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, staging media events and meeting with travel agents and wedding specialists. In 2010 the hotel plans to conduct what it calls “familiarisation trips” for event managers, wedding specialists and travel and tour operators in India.

Deep in China, plans for a resort city with casinos

A land development company called China Holdings has plans to turn 100 square kilometers of Inner Mongolia into “China Vegas - A New World Resort City”.

The land is part of 800 square kilometers the company reportedly controls in this remote region of the People’s Republic. Plans call for the portion set aside for “China Vegas” to accommodate a city of 1 million people in the first stage of development, with ultimate expansion over 10 years to a population of 5 million.

The core of the city will include commercial and office buildings, residential development, shopping centers and recreation, sports and entertainment facilities.

The entertainment portion includes a variety of expansive plans: luxury hotels, themed casinos, pedestrian skyways linking hotels to casinos, boutiques, restaurants, Broadway-style theaters, Las Vegas-style production shows, traditional Chinese theater and international and Chinese movie premieres.

Plans for sport and recreation include golf courses and a golf academy bordered by residential villas, a football stadium, Olympic-style stadiums, tennis courts, an equestrian center, auto and motorcycle racing and horseracing.

The watchword is “cosmopolitan,” the company says, in describing an urban landscape that will blend traditional Chinese architecture with that of the world’s great cities - Paris, London, Rome, Venice, Vancouver, Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, among them - and of course Las Vegas.

Essential infrastructure is already in place, the company says, including a new airport, high-speed rail and modern highways.

Julianna Lu, founder and chairwoman of China Holdings, said, “As we are creating a world event, a world resort city in China, which will grow into billions and billions of revenues in the next 10 to 20 years, it will be a magnificent opportunity and contribution to China and the Chinese economy and to the world.”