Chinese companies betting big on island casino investment
Several Chinese listed companies have announced plans to enter the gambling industry through offshore investment.
Chinese Strategic Holdings Ltd, formerly called China Railway Logistics Ltd, a property developer based in Hong Kong, announced on Wednesday in a filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that the company is set to invest HK$1 billion ($128.9 million) in a hotel and casino land lease in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Another Hong Kong-listed company, Landing International Development, announced its plans last Friday to build a resort and casino on South Korea’s Cheju Island in a joint venture with Malaysian gambling giant Genting Group. The total investment is $2.2 billion.
A-share listed Macrolink also signed an agreement in January with South Korea’s Black Stone Resort to jointly spend about 200 million yuan ($33 million) on a joint venture on Cheju Island. The latter owns several gambling licenses issued by the South Korean government.
“The gambling industry is illegal on the Chinese mainland, but the lucrative yields and growing demand attract investors,” said Su Guojing, chairman of the Asian Responsible Gambling Alliance and founder of the China Lottery Industry Salon.
It is difficult to estimate the size of Chinese investment in overseas gambling enterprises, but the sum is probably quite large, Su said, because any investment figures that are announced by listed companies are only a small portion, with much more made by low-key private investors, because of the sensitivity of the industry.
Macrolink’s share price surged by more than 20 percent in the three days following the announcement. Landing International Development’s rose 22 percent. A-share-listed Landing Holding Group, affiliated with Landing International Development, though not related to the Cheju Island project, also saw share prices hit their limit for up to two days after the news was aired.
But Su said that in terms of casino operations, it is generally a long timeframe from announcements to action and uncertainties loom large.
“Operating with a license and compliance with local regulations are key in the gambling industry. It is also where potential risks lie. Some companies make mistakes, while some investments fail,” he said.
Although gambling is illegal in China, a strong appetite for more sophisticated games has created a boom in the domestic lottery industry, which is also supported by rising income.
In China’s growing lottery market, ticket buyers spent some $23 billion in 2012, although it still paled compared with the $37 billion in the United States, the world’s largest lottery market, according to Reuters.
But with 20 percent growth rates projected over the next three years, China is expected to take the top spot by 2015.
Chen Yunhong, an analyst with Qilu Securities, said with the market expanding and government regulations becoming more open and transparent, as well as the opportunities brought by the 2014 World Cup, lottery distributors and football lottery-related companies will no doubt thrive.