CASINO

Ho gambles Melco’s fate in Japan at Russian venture’s expense

TAGs: Lawrence Ho, melco resorts & entertainment

Chinese casino mogul Lawrence Ho has ditched the cold (not to mention expensive) Primorye region to gamble the fate of Melco Resorts & Entertainment in the land of the rising sun.

Nikkei Asian Review reported that Ho gave up his control of the Hong Kong-listed Summit Ascent Holdings Ltd., the company that runs the Tigre de Cristal casino resort in Russia’s Far East, to boost Melco’s chances of acquiring a casino license in Japan.Ho gambles Melco’s fate in Japan at Russian venture's expense

Ho admitted that the allure of Japan’s casino market potential was a major factor in his decision to divest his 391 million shares in Summit Ascent in 2017. Ho’s shares at the end of 2016, which represented 27.06 percent in Summit Ascent, now carries a price tag of HKD363.6 million (US$46.32 million).

“Rarely do you find a first-world country like Japan with the infrastructure, tech and people already in place, yet the potential still so big,” the Melco boss said, according to the news outlet.

Media reports earlier speculated that Ho’s departure from Russia was due to the plans by local officials to hike gaming taxes. Ho, however, revealed that the decision was tied to international politics.

Ho explained that Japan and Russia are embroiled in a territorial dispute, and Russia had been sanctioned by the international community for its annexation of Crimea. The Melco boss said he didn’t want to ruin Melco’s chances of getting a Japanese casino license just because of its investments in Russia.

“I did not want to do anything that would jeopardize how Japanese regulators see my other activities,” Ho said. “Given that my main focus is Japan…I said let’s quickly clean that up.”

If Melco is granted a Japanese casino license, Ho said the company will shell out $10 billion for the construction of an integrated resort in a major city.

On Tuesday, Japan’s lower parliamentary chamber started its discussions on the draft Integrated Resorts Implementation Bill (IR Bill). With the current legislative session nearing its end, lawmakers are discussing the possibility of extending the session to ensure that the bill will pass both chambers of the parliament.

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