HONG KONG An investor in one of Macau's largest junket operators plans to build a $3 billion casino resort complex in the western Pacific island of Saipan amid sluggish growth at home, the world's biggest gambling market.
Imperial Pacific International Holdings Limited, which invests in the Hengsheng Group junket, said on Wednesday it was looking for a property in Saipan to build the integrated resort after being granted a 25-year casino licence by the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The casino would be the first large scale integrated resort on Saipan, the largest island in the U.S. commonwealth which is located a five-hour flight away from Shanghai.
Like other junket operators, Hengsheng is trying to diversify away from Macau, as growth in the world's biggest gambling market slows this year due to a weaker Chinese economy and a pervasive crackdown on corruption by Beijing.
Junkets typically provide loans to wealthy Chinese gamblers, taking assets such as property and company equity as collateral, but with falling home prices and a squeeze on liquidity, over 14 small and mid-sized junket operators have been forced to shut down while large operators are trying to consolidate.
Imperial Pacific's bid to build a casino in Saipan comes as larger casino operators such as Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts scour Asia for new locations.
Saipan residents have objected to the casino proposal, prompting Imperial Pacific to promise to distribute cash vouchers worth $10 million.
The Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, the market regulator, has twice issued trading warnings over Imperial Pacific's stocks this year.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Miral Fahmy)