Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

SkyCity sets sights on Asia

Auckland and Adelaide developments on radar and move this year to fast-growing Philippines is on the horizon.

Manila is in for a gambling boom. Photo / AP
Manila is in for a gambling boom. Photo / AP

SkyCity Entertainment Group is looking at moving into the thriving Asian market, opening a giant venue in the Philippines in what could be a $200 million venture set to take planned capital expenditure to almost $1 billion.

Chief executive Nigel Morrison said the company saw huge growth opportunities in Manila, top executives had already been there, and SkyCity might make a move this year.

"We are always looking at ways to grow the business beyond our existing markets and proactively review new opportunities to create shareholder value. The Philippines is recognised as one of the most exciting new emerging gaming markets in Asia. Senior SkyCity executives have visited the Philippines on numerous occasions and believe in the potential for future growth."

But that does not mean the fifth largest NZX listed business would shy away from its controversial attempts to develop the $350 million international convention and exhibition centre in Auckland, subject to a long-awaited Auditor-General report.

Morrison indicated the business had enough balance sheet capacity to work in both Manila and Auckland due to its borrowing capacity and lines of credit, as well as forging ahead with it's A$350 million ($435 million) Adelaide rebuild and expansion.

All up, the three projects could amount to more than $900 million expenditure, not taking into account SkyCity's imminent move on Federal St where it will soon begin to create a shared space streetscape spanning its SkyCity Grand Hotel and Convention Centre on the Albert St side and its SkyTower and SkyCity Hotel on the Nelson St side. Traffic and pedestrians will share the street after Auckland Council changes to Fort St and Elliott St in the CBD.

Manila presented excellent growth opportunities.

"We are continuing to monitor the competitive landscape and build relationships with key stakeholders in this developing market," Morrison said.

However, it is not known what options SkyCity is looking at - developing and building a new venue, or buying into a consortium in an arrangement not dissimilar to the arrangement with Skyline Enterprises where the two owned the Christchurch and Queenstown casinos until just before Christmas when they announced SkyCity would take control in Queentown while Skyline got Christchurch.

Analysts were surprised yesterday about the Manila plans, saying they knew nothing about them, the company had issued no formal statement to NZX and they wondered if a big capital-raising was planned because the size of the expansion on the three fronts was ambitious.

If so, the investment community would need convincing about the Philippines plans, one predicted.

"If they did Adelaide, Auckland and Manila, they would be able to go to the market for equity and it would be seen as a negative. It's out of the blue," one said.

Mark Brown, OnePath head of equities, was surprised.

"I've heard nothing about this. But you have to judge the move on its merits, look at the opportunity to see who the competitors are, how much money is involved and whether that involves capital raising. This is something completely new."

Another said he was surprised SkyCity was considering veering off in a new direction, away from its stated aim of investing only in Australasian entertainment assets. Shareholders had not been asked about their views and had not been told, he said.

A formal NZX announcement should have been made, under continuous disclosure rules, because such a plan was material to the business and the last thing investors wanted was a big surprise, he said.

SkyCity's last NZX announcement was on January 18 when it said a results announcement for the year's first-half would be issued on February 13.

- REUTERS reported last month how Manila Bay was in for a huge casino boom, tapping into the Chinese gambling market worth billions.

"The two most richly valued companies in the financial and consumer discretionary sectors in Southeast Asia share two things in common - both are controlled by Filipino tycoons and both are building casinos by the azure waters of Manila Bay," it reported on December 27.

"Bloomberry Resorts and Belle show the size of bets being laid on the Philippines' ambition to join Macau and Singapore among the ranks of Asia's top gaming destinations," Reuters said.

Bloomberg reported on January 16 that Macau's Galaxy Entertainment Group and SkyCity and "a couple of Las Vegas-based casinos" had expressed an interest in controlling a stake in the four casino licences the Philippines awarded in 2008 and 2009 to build and operate a Manila gambling and entertainment complex to compete with Macau and Singapore.

Associated Press reported on September 13 how a US$4 billion ($4.8 billion) casino would soon rise from reclaimed land on Manila Bay as part of an Asian gambling development boom.

"In the Philippines, church leaders have spoken out against a US$4 billion project that the Government hopes will turn a site on Manila Bay into the country's version of the Las Vegas Strip. Casinos have been legal since 1977 but many are small and run-down."

SkyCity shares closed yesterday down 3c at $3.97, not far from its recent peak last April of $4.05.

- NZ Herald

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