Cash-rich Genting Singapore hopeful of Japan foray

SINGAPORE Fri Dec 7, 2012 4:20am EST

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SINGAPORE Dec 7 (Reuters) - Gaming operator Genting Singapore is examining opportunities to enter Japan, where a new government is expected to pass legislation legalizing casinos in the next 12 months to 18 months, company executives said on Friday.

The operator of the muti-billion dollar casino and entertainment complex Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore is looking to expand overseas at a time its casino in the city-state is facing headwinds from tighter regulations and slowing economic growth.

Its gaming revenue fell 20 percent in the third quarter from a year ago.

"I'm more optimistic on something happening in Japan than for the rest. We see some possible movement in terms of Japanese legislation," chairman of the Genting Group, Lim Kok Tay, said at a press conference.

The Genting Group comprises Genting Berhad as the investment holding company and listed vehicles such as Genting Singapore, Genting Malaysia and Genting Hong Kong .

Genting Hong Kong has applied to Australian regulators to raise its stake in Echo Entertainment Group to 25 percent from about 5 percent, potentially pitting it in a battle for the company against Australian billionaire James Packer, who owns a 10 percent stake.

The group also operates the popular Genting Highlands casino complex near Kuala Lumpur and has invested in the Philippines and Vietnam, after missing out on a concession in Macau more than a decade ago.

CHANGING POLITICAL WINDS?

The Japanese government has been toying with the idea of changing the law to make casinos legal, but the process has been slowed by constant changes in its leadership.

However, that may soon change with a parliamentary election later this month that is expected to see a win for the Liberal Democratic Party, which has supported legalising casinos.

"We believe that some legislation will come along in the next 12-18 months," said Tan Hee Teck, Chief Operating Officer of Genting Singapore.

The Genting executives did not provide any details on how exactly the group plans to foray into Japan or how much it is willing to invest.

Japan is seen as an attractive market for Genting because of its large market size and potential for larger scale developments.

"We believe if the Japanese government does legislate gaming, then they will be looking for large-scale integrated resorts," said group chairman Lim.

Genting Singapore raised $2.3 billion through perpetual securities earlier this year, and had S$4.1 billion in cash as of end-September.

In Singapore, the company is looking to build more hotels to overcome a shortage of hotel rooms to cater to the higher end of the mass market, which is a factor limiting Genting Singapore's growth, he said.

A subsidiary of Genting Singapore earlier this month placed the top bid of S$238.2 million for a hotel site on the outskirts of the city-state.

Shares of Genting Singapore have fallen 18 percent since the start of the year, making it the third-worst performing stock on the Straits Times Index. (Reporting by Charmian Kok; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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