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Summit News

Wilbur Ross looking at casino sector

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday he is actively looking at investing in the casino sector in the United States and internationally, including in Macau.

Wilbur Ross, chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Company LLC, speaks at the 2009 Reuters Restructuring Summit in New York September 29, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar

“We’re getting very interested in the casino sector,” Ross said during the Reuters Restructuring Summit in New York.

He said the tax peculiarities related to Native American-owned casinos made it a “little less likely” that he would invest in that area. “But in the other sectors, both here and abroad, we are looking quite actively,” he said.

Many casinos are struggling with large debt burdens and declining cash flows as gamblers cut back on spending in the global economic downturn. U.S. casino operators have been considering sales of individual properties, and some have been forced to halt construction projects.

Some companies are also looking at selling assets in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau to support struggling operations in Las Vegas. Ross said he was interested in properties in the United States as well as Macau.

He said he expects to continue investing in areas where he already has made purchases, such as railcar leasing, auto parts and financial institutions, including CIT Group Inc CIT.N.

BANKS, RAILCARS, AUTOS

Ross, who purchased troubled BankUnited BKUNQ.PK in May after it was seized by U.S. bank regulators, said he had teamed up with Starwood Capital Group to bid this past weekend on the assets of Corus Bank. The unit of Corus Bankshares CORS.PK was seized by regulators early this month.

He also said he would be interested in buying certain business lines of CIT, which has said it might have to file for bankruptcy. He said he thought CIT would prefer to restructure as a whole before selling assets.

“There are some assets of CIT that we’ve told them that if they did wish to have an auction, we’d like to participate,” Ross said.

Discussing railcar leasing, where he already has two investments, Ross said, “We think it’s an industry that could stand to have some consolidation, particularly right now, because railcar utilization is quite low. Something like a third of all the railcars are sitting idle.”

He said he will be investing overseas through the Chinese energy infrastructure fund that Invesco WL Ross, a partnership with investment manager Invesco IVZ.N, launched with China Huaneng Group last year.

He said the fund was aiming for a couple billion dollars worth of projects. “They will have leverage on them -- we’re expecting to have maybe a 3 to 1 debt to equity ratio,” he said.

Ross also said he will likely make more acquisitions in the auto parts sector, which has been squeezed by declining auto sales and demands for lower prices from struggling automakers.

Major parts suppliers, including Lear Corp LEARQ.PK, Visteon Corp VSTN.PK and Metaldyne, have filed for bankruptcy this year. Others, including American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc AXL.N, have scrambled to avoid Chapter 11.

Hundreds of smaller parts suppliers have disappeared due to lower demand. Ross said he expects more bankruptcies and more consolidation in the sector.

Reporting by Caroline Humer; Additional reporting by Jui Chakravorty Das, Chelsea Emery and Michael Erman; editing by John Wallace

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