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Sy eyes casino deal with Melco

Posted June 28th, 2012 by Manila Standard Today

Belle Corp., controlled by companies belonging to billionaire Henry Sy, said it is in talks with Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. to set up a Manila casino.

Belle, which Sy’s SM Investments Corp. invests in, is discussing the partnership although nothing is final, vice chairman Willy Ocier said Wednesday. Melco Crown is the casino joint venture of Australian billionaire James Packer and a son of Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho.

Belle climbed 8.1 percent to P5.20 on news of the talks, which would give it a partner that has succeeded in boosting gambling revenue in Macau, the world’s largest gaming hub. For Melco Crown, the deal would drive growth outside the Chinese city that helped boost its first-quarter profit 17-fold.

“A partnership with a seasoned and experienced foreign player will give this venture an edge and turn it into a better contender,” said Richard Laneda, analyst at Manila-based CitisecOnline.com, on the benefits of any agreement to Belle. “This partnership will make SM’s casino investment more promising.”

Sy’s SM Investments Corp., owner of the largest Philippine bank and retailer, counts Belle as one of its portfolio investments. Belle is 62.33-percent owned by companies identified and linked with Henry Sy and SM Investments, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Henry Sy, 87, went from running a shoe store that he started in 1948 in Manila to become the Philippines’ richest man.

Belle holds one of four licenses that the Philippines awarded in 2008 and 2009 to operate a gambling and entertainment complex in Manila that the government is developing to compete with Macau and Singapore. Belle’s competitors include Genting Hong Kong Ltd., Philippine port magnate Enrique Razon Jr. and Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, who are the holders of the other three licenses.

The Australian Financial Review reported that Melco Crown is close to a deal, and that Packer and Stanley Ho’s son Lawrence flew to Manila to sign an agreement with Henry Sy Jr., the eldest son of the Philippine billionaire. Sy Jr., is vice
chairman at SM Investments.

Maggie Ma, a spokesman for Melco Crown, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment via phone or e-mail.

Melco Crown is awaiting regulatory approval for a resort, the Studio City, on the Cotai Strip in Macau. Packer’s Crown Ltd., the owner of casinos in Melbourne and Perth, has a 10-percent stake in Australia’s Echo Entertainment Group Ltd. and applied to raise the holding in February.
 
(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/June/28)
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