UPDATE 1-Macau casino Melco Crown rakes in 560% rise in Q4 profits
* 2011 Q4 $107.5 mln v 16.3 mln in 2010
* CEO expects gross gaming revenue between 15-20 pct, optimistic on 2012
* Macau Studio City awaiting construction permit
* Junket commission wars unlikely-CEO
By Farah Master
HONG KONG, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Macau casino Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd , partly owned by Australian billionaire James Packer and Hong Kong businessman Lawrence Ho, posted a 560 percent rise in fourth-quarter net profits to $107.5 million on Thursday.
Melco is one of six operators in Macau, the only place where mainland Chinese are allowed to legally gamble in casinos.
Rival Macau casino operators including Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands continue to rake in the lion's share of total revenue in the former Portuguese colony where Chinese gamblers continue to flock despite the global economic turmoil.
Lawrence Ho, speaking to investors on a conference call, said he had not seen any significant slowdown in Macau and remained optimistic for further growth this year.
"When it comes to the discretionary spending and consumer sector we really haven't seen any significant slowdown in Macau. Our hypothesis for a 15-20 percent (rise) in gross gaming overall for the market this year is based on an 8 percent GDP growth."
Melco, which has around 15 percent of the market in Macau with properties including a strobe-lit City of Dreams and its boutique casino Altira, is awaiting final clearance to start construction of a new $2 billion project, Macau Studio City. The new gaming and entertainment resort on the Cotai strip is expected to be completed by 2015.
The Macau government has slowed the pace of casino development in recent years after the rapid growth building up to 2008. It has yet to approve construction permits for new casinos for Wynn Macau, MGM China and SJM Holdings .
But Macau's chief gambling regulator, Manuel Joaquim das Neves, told Reuters this week it was likely all the casinos would get their permits by the end of this year.
NO PRICE WARS
The Cotai strip is developing into the enclave's main casino district with a focus on leisure and tourism as opposed to the cramped peninsula, that is crammed with garish gaming parlours and kitsch casinos.
Lawrence Ho is a son of former Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, credited with transforming the once sleepy fishing village into a thriving casino town.
One of his father's 17 children, Ho has taken the reins at Melco while his sister Pansy is co-chairman of MGM China.
SJM Holdings, the biggest operator by market share, is controlled by Angela Leong, Stanley Ho's fourth wife.
Melco, which listed by introduction in Hong Kong on Dec 7., is looking to raise up to US$2bn in debt to fund its new project. (Editing by Greg Mahlich)
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