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Issues  |  MARCH 10, 2014 1:00PM

Genting feels the pressure

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Genting Gaming In story banner 01In the first of a series on casinos, KiniBiz lays out the stage on which Genting is operating. It is a tough market out there but there are opportunities galore as countries look towards setting up more casinos while it is possible to acquire old ones.

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Among the sin stocks in Malaysia, is one that stands on the peak. Quite literally, in fact. This of course refers to the casino which dominates one of the highlands in Peninsular Malaysia. The sector has seen its fair share of ups and downs, and according to analysts, is looking at a steady year ahead.

Resorts-World-Genting-Logo-ThumbThe local casino scene is monopolised by Genting Bhd, with their highland redoubt undergoing a refurbishment and expansion to increase capacity and improve attractions, with the entire plan price-tagged at RM5 billion. This plan is expected to boost Genting Malaysia’s earnings, and is lauded by analysts, considering Resorts World Genting has had a history of boosted earnings after refurbishment.

The plan, termed the Genting Integrated Tourism Plan, also includes the construction of another premium outlet by sister company Genting Plantations and joint-venture partner Simon Chelsea Property, connected to the new Resorts World Genting by cable car, as it will be constructed in Awana, next to the cable car line. Analysts note that this will drive up visitor arrivals for the highland casino when the building is completed in 2015.

Other plans in the works for Genting include the opening of Resorts World Jeju in South Korea, as well as Resorts World Las Vegas in the Las Vegas Strip. An analyst from a local research house noted that Genting already has the necessary approvals for Resorts World Las Vegas, and that “all that is left is for them to finish building”.

Star City Casino 4-0Also on the grapevine is that Genting Hong Kong is in talks with Echo Entertainment, possibly to increase its 6.6% stake in the company, which runs Sydney’s Star Casino. An analyst mentioned that Genting bought a stake in Echo Entertainment to generate presence in Australia, but “since they are a foreign (to Australia) company, they have a cap as to how big a stake they can own. To own anymore requires approval from local authorities”.

However, Genting Malaysia also faced its share of issues, with the Bimini Superfast cruise as an example. The cruise ran into legal issues over the use of foreign workers on its overnight cruises. The US Customs and Border Protection agency ruled against the use of foreign workers on these “cruises to nowhere” as it contravenes US labour laws. This forced Genting Malaysia to shut down those cruises, as a response to the ultimatum from the US agency to either hire US workers for the cruise, or to shut them down.

This looks to exacerbate the losses that the Bimini Superfast cruise have been incurring, considering the cruise caused the company to suffer an EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) loss of RM50.4 million. Considering Genting Malaysia is planning to appeal the decision, this looks to require a larger investment from the company before it starts to break even.

pokerAnalysts note that this would not affect Genting all that much, though. One analyst noted that “the impact will be small, and this startup was to cater to the gamers in Miami”. Miami currently has laws allowing only Native Americans to start casinos on land, with the state government receiving a monthly payment to the tune of US$230 million a year from the Seminole Tribe for the exclusive right to run games at their casinos in South Florida, and slot machines in other parts of the state.

According to the Miami Herald, a recent poll showed that 56% of voters there wanted Las-Vegas-style “destination resort” casinos, and that the senate had proposed a set of three bills, that would bring casino resorts to Miami-Dade and Broward counties, reduce dog racing, and subject the gaming industry to new regulations. This would allow for two casino licences in South Florida, and, if passed, is set to take effect this year. This ties in to Genting’s plans of Resorts World Omni, which is waiting for the legalisation of non-Native American casinos.

“It’s Christmas in February for out-of-state gambling interests, and their entire wish list can be found in these bills,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, the Orlando-based gaming opposition group. “This legislation reeks of gambling interest influence. I have yet to find any major provision that isn’t there at the request of somebody in the gambling industry.”

Resorts_World_SG_logoDown south of Malaysia is contested zone Singapore, with two casino players in its grounds competing for pole position. However, both Resorts World Sentosa, which is run by Genting’s subsidiary Genting Singapore, and Marina Bay Sands, run by Las Vegas Sands, both looked at lower revenues in their FY13 results, with Maybank Investment Bank and CIMB Investment Bank attributing the numbers to the fewer VIP gamblers coming in. That, in turn, was attributed to the weakening manufacturing sector in China, as well as credit-tightening in the land of the dragon.

However, Resorts World Sentosa saw a revenue drop of 19%, compared to Marina Bay Sands’ 8.2%. This was due to a higher payout from Resorts World Sentosa, as the VIP gamblers that did go were lucky, and took larger winnings.

To improve its lot, Genting Singapore is looking towards Japan as its hope, as it appears that the land of the rising sun is considering lifting its ban on casinos to stimulate economic growth in the country. The Casino Bill, as it is coined, was finally submitted in December 2013 after months of speculation. The bill is expected to pass between June and July this year, with casino licensing in 2016.

genting singaporeAccording to Kenanga Investment Research, who took the cue from Singapore’s own gambling legalisation experience in 2006, casino stocks are likely to perform well this year riding on the new market. However, this is all very dependent on the bill being passed, and Maybank advises caution until that actually happens. Maybank also noted that the passing of the bill only meant that gaming companies could begin to lobby for a casino license in the country, with no confirmations possible till later.

However, according to Bradley Seth McNew in his article “These Casinos Are Betting On Japan Ahead of Gaming Legalization”, it is very likely that Japan will pass the Casino Bill, as the island nation’s government has said that it would like casinos to fund a portion of the cost of the coming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. According to the report, the Japanese government will award a total of four licenses in Tokyo and Osaka.

McNew had also noted in his article that Genting is one of the top contenders for the four licenses, alongside MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and Caesars Entertainment. Osaka government officials are already in pre-emptive talks with said companies to acquire land and set up casinos in Osaka rather than Tokyo.

Lim Kok Thay

Lim Kok Thay

Analysts responded to that by noting that the number of licenses mentioned is “likely rumours”, and that, even if the Casino Bill is passed, there will still be other regulations that require government approval before a casino can be built and run. An analyst noted that Genting Singapore chief executive officer Lim Kok Thay is “confident that they can secure a licence”.

Genting Malaysia, alongside Genting Singapore, also has interests in the United Kingdom, through its subsidiary Genting UK, and is the largest casino operator in the country, with 35 casinos located from Edinburgh to Plymouth. Genting UK operates two brands in the area, Genting Casino and Genting Club.

Other than Resorts World Bimini in the Bahamas, Genting Malaysia also operates Resorts World New York, which was opened in 2011 with 2280 terminals. Resorts World Casino New York City is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Genting Malaysia.

The local gaming giant has also established a foothold in Hong Kong and Manila, through its subsidiary Genting Hong Kong, formerly Star Cruises. Genting Hong Kong is responsible for the operations of Resorts World Manila in the Philippines, as well as the cruise liners of the Genting Group. All in all, Genting Hong Kong operates a fleet of 12 liners in the Asia-Pacific region, and owns a 50% stake in Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Genting Bhd casino operations

Genting started as a flash of inspiration for founder Lim Goh Tong, who was working on a hydroelectric power project at the popular hill resort in Cameron Highlands in 1964. At that time, the highland resort was mostly patronised by British colonials, who sought refuge in the mountain air from the heat at sea level.

The inspiration led to Lim studying the maps and Kuala Lumpur’s vicinity, giving him the site of the 1800-metre tall Gunung Ulu Kali, just 58km from the nation’s capital. It represented a daunting task, as the site was covered in a dense tropical jungle and rugged terrain.

With location in mind, Lim set up a private company, Genting Highlands Bhd, on the 27th of April, 1965, alongside the late Haji Mohammed Noah bin Omar, the father-in-law of the Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister and father of current prime minister Najib. Over the next five years, Lim and Noah successfully obtained approval for the alienation of 12,000 acres and 2,800 acres of land from the Pahang and Selangor State Governments respectively

It was also in 1965 that a technical and construction team began the task to complete the access road from Genting Sempah to the peak of Gunung Ulu Kali, a feat which would take the better part of four years. Lim devoted his time, capital, and resources to see this dream of his made manifest, even pulling on the reserves of his family company Kien Huat Bhd.

Lim Goh Tong

Lim Goh Tong

The completion of the access road was marked by the official laying of the foundation stone by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first prime minister, who had suggested a gaming licence to accelerate the development of the then remote region, and stated that he was impressed by the fact that the private sector, with no aid from the government, could develop a mountain resort.

The first hotel, Highlands Hotel, now Theme Park Hotel, was completed in 1971, and Genting continued to expand to the five hotels now, along with two apartment blocks, and a golf and country resort.

Genting has also expanded its interest to plantations, properties, power generation, and oil and gas. But that’s  another story.

Tomorrow: A look at the regional casinos



 
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