MGM China shares rise in 1st day of HK trading

AP News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2011 5:14 AM
MGM China shares rise in 1st day of HK trading

Macau casino operator MGM China Holdings Ltd. rose up to 6 percent on its Hong Kong stock exchange debut Friday, highlighting strong investor interest in the world's biggest gambling market.

Shares in MGM China, which is controlled by Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts international, rose 92 cents to 16.26 Hong Kong dollars shortly after trading began Friday morning.

They closed 2 percent higher at HK$15.62 while the benchmark Hang Seng Index was 1.3 percent lower.

The company raised HK$11.7 billion ($1.5 billion) by selling 760 million shares at $15.34, the top end of the offer price range. That made it the fourth-largest global gambling IPO on record, according to deal tracking company Dealogic.

MGM China Chairwoman Pansy Ho said she was "satisfied" with trading.

"We all think it's an encouraging indication," Ho said after a listing ceremony at the stock exchange.

Local investors in Hong Kong applied for 20 times more shares than were available to them, prompting the company to triple their proportion of total shares sold to 30 percent. The remaining 70 percent of the IPO was also "significantly oversubscribed" by big global investors, MGM China said.

So-called cornerstone investors included Tracinda Corp., billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's investment arm, and Paulson & Co. Inc., the New York hedge fund run by John Paulson. Tracinda and Paulson are also MGM Resorts' two biggest shareholders.

The high demand for shares in the IPO illustrates how big profits in Macau's casino industry, the world's top gambling market, are attracting investor interest.

Casino revenues in the former Portuguese colony, which was handed back to China in 1999, have rocketed since a four-decade gambling monopoly was broken up in 2002.

In 2010, Macau raked in $23.5 billion in gambling revenue, about four times more than the Las Vegas strip's $5.8 billion. Monthly revenue from February to May has jumped at least 42 percent over the year before.

MGM's casino is one of 34 in Macau, a special administrative region of China and the only place in the country where casino gambling is legal.

Gabriel Chan, a gaming analyst at Credit Suisse, said there was little doubt the shares would rise.

"It's no surprise to us. Basically Macau is hot," he said.

Before the IPO, MGM China was a 50-50 joint venture between MGM Resorts and Ho. The money raised in the IPO is being used to buy out part of Ho's stake as part of a reorganization that will raise MGM Resorts' share to 51 percent and give it management control. Ho's share falls to 29 percent while other shareholders own the remaining 20 percent.

Now that MGM Resorts has a controlling stake, it will be able to book profits from MGM China, Chan said.

"This is the one of the few growth drivers that MGM Resorts really has," he said.

Pansy Ho is the 48-year-old daughter of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, considered the father of modern gambling in China. He has also long been accused of ties to Chinese organized crime, which he denies.

A New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement report made public last year said Stanley Ho lets criminal gangs "operate and thrive" inside his casinos. The division found that Pansy Ho is dependent on him and his money and remains under his influence.

In response to an ultimatum from New Jersey casino regulators that MGM Resorts either sell its 50 percent stake in Atlantic City's top casino, or cut ties with Pansy Ho, MGM chose to keep its relationship with her.

The regulators concluded that Pansy Ho is an "unsuitable" business partner of MGM in Macau.

The company admits no wrongdoing and says it has a "spotless record" operating with her.

More recently, Stanley Ho, who has 16 living children by four women he calls his "wives," was embroiled in a months-long inheritance dispute with Pansy Ho and other family members over control of his casino empire. The feud involved multiple lawsuits filed by the ailing tycoon, including one naming Pansy Ho as a defendant, before it was settled in March.