HONG KONG Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd (0027.HK) looks set to build on last year's record earnings as it pencils in plans for glittering mega casinos and positions itself for the next wave of high-rollers from mainland China.
The company is also ploughing big money into a kids-friendly resort on a neighboring island to attract Chinese families.
Hong Kong-listed Galaxy, the second-biggest gaming firm in Macau after Sands China Ltd (1928.HK), is launching its second phase of expansion since winning its first gaming concession in the former Portuguese colony more than a decade ago.
Macau, a special administrative region like nearby Hong Kong, is the only place in China where casino gambling is allowed. Located on China's southern coast, Macau's gaming revenues last year were nearly three times greater than Las Vegas, Australia and Singapore combined.
Galaxy, controlled by the family of Hong Kong construction tycoon Lui Che Woo, on Wednesday posted a 36 percent jump in 2013 net profit to HK$10.1 billion ($1.30 billion). The company also said it had HK$10.3 billion of cash on hand and was virtually debt-free as of the end of December.
A strong balance sheet will help Galaxy compete with MGM China Holdings Ltd (2282.HK) and Steve Wynn's Wynn Macau Ltd (1128.HK) as casino operators race to develop new properties to capture a larger slice of the Macau market, which raked in $45 billion in gaming revenue last year.
Galaxy is expected to launch a new casino in 2015, making it one of the first operators to open a new gambling property. Macau's second wave of casino expansion will see eight new mega properties by 2017.
Galaxy is armed with the biggest land bank on Macau's developing Las Vegas-style strip known as Cotai. The company's current casino on Cotai accounts for just 25 percent of its total allocated space.
Construction for its third and fourth phases is expected to begin at the end of this year with a budget of HK$50 billion-HK$60 billion.
Galaxy is also set to build a 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) resort on neighboring Hengqin island, an area three times the size of space-starved Macau. The resort will be located on the southwestern tip of the island.
While Hengqin authorities will not permit gambling, Macau casino operators have been keen to expand leisure facilities to help complement their gaming properties across the water.
"We hope to build an iconic product which is five-star and leverages on the coastline, on land, on sea to offer entertainment facilities," Deputy Chairman Francis Lui told reporters at an earnings briefing on Wednesday.
"We have a lot of flexibility with this project," he said, adding that there is no need to raise funds for the project.
Galaxy may look to build villas over water as seen in the Maldives.
Shares in Galaxy have surged 134 percent in the past year versus the benchmark Hang Seng Index .HSI which is down 2 percent in the same period.
Galaxy, a $40 billion company by market capitalisation, is the best performer among 52 top casino operators in the world on price performance, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.
The stock ended 2.83 percent lower on Wednesday, after the earnings announcement. The Hang Seng fell 0.07 percent.
Galaxy said earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 41 percent to HK$3.5 billion in the fourth quarter from a year earlier. That was about 4 percent below the average of analysts' estimates.
The company is also looking across Asia to expand, Galaxy executives said during the media briefing, without specifying which country. ($1 = 7.7669 Hong Kong Dollars) ($1 = 6.1920 Chinese Yuan)
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Ryan Woo)