(Corrects headline, first and fourth paragraphs to reflect company clarification that it hopes, rather than believes, Macau may allow more gaming entrants)
* Says patiently awaiting next opportunity to enter Macau
* Says Asia highly underpenetrated for gambling companies (Adds details, quotes)
By Sui-Lee Wee
MACAU, June 8 (Reuters) - Harrah’s Entertainment Inc [HAMLEH.UL], the world’s largest casino operator by revenue, said on Tuesday it hopes Macau could allow new entrants to its local gambling market, the world’s largest.
Harrah’s, which was bought by private-equity firms TPG Capital LP [TPG.UL] and Apollo Management LP [APOLO.UL] in a 2008 $31 billion buyout, operates more than 50 casinos in six countries, including Las Vegas resorts Caesars Palace and Paris.
It is the only major U.S. casino operator without a license to operate in Macau, a tightly controlled market that has surpassed the Las Vegas Strip to become the world’s biggest gambling market.
Michael Chen, Harrah’s president for Asia, told Reuters he hopes his company would eventually be allowed into Macau, but did not give a timeframe or say how its entrance would be accomplished.
“The government will make it clear when they want to invite new entrants in, and when they do we’ll be there,” Chen said.
“Now we are patiently waiting for the next opportunity to arrive,” he added, referring to gambling opportunities in Asia.
In 2002, Harrah’s decided not to bid for a gaming license when the former Portuguese colony opened up its market to foreign casino operators, because it believed the regulators in the 14 jurisdictions in which it operates would not permit it to run casinos in Macau, Chen told Reuters in an interview last year. [ID:nHKG188101]
Most of the world’s other major casino operators are represented in the market, including MGM Mirage (MGM.N), Las Vegas Sands (LVS.N) and Wynn Resorts (WYNN.O), as well as local operators Melco Crown MPEL.O and Galaxy Entertainment (0027.HK).
While it has no casinos there, Harrah’s paid US$577.7 million in 2007 for a 70.8 hectare golf course in Macau’s Cotai Strip.
Chen said Harrah’s, like most major casino operators, was also interested in other Asian markets such as Japan and Taiwan, where various levels of discussion were ongoing about opening the local gambling markets but little had so far taken place in terms of definitive action.
“In Asia, gaming is highly underpenetrated. We’re just at the beginning of the growth curve. We’ll be very excited if any of these markets open up.” (Editing by Doug Young and Chris Lewis)