Major Players Gamble On Casinos

While Anschutz Entertainment Group is staying tight-lipped on its chances of winning the first super-casino license to be granted in the U.K., a couple of international gambling chains have moved into the market in a bid to benefit from any further deregulation.

Most of the British media, and probably most of the public, seem resigned to the fact that the U.S.-based entertainment group will get the license to run the first mega gambling house in what was once The Dome. But Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. and Genting Bhd. have both shelled out a lot of money to increase their U.K. casino portfolios.

AEG took The Dome off the government’s hands for next to nothing, renaming it The O2 after the phone giant paid US$11.3 million to have its brand on the building for the next six years. A few caustic journalists have said AEG will probably get the casino license for whatever it cost billionaire owner Philip Anschutz to buy a cowboy outfit for the country’s deputy leader.

The Labour government was forced to scale back plans for dozens of Las Vegas-style super-casinos and settle for only one after a massive revolt by the opposition parties and its own backbench MPs. But should it turn out to be a success, the Gambling Act does provide for further licenses to be granted.

Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. has made certain it’ll have the available sites for expansion by paying US$530 million for London Clubs International, which operates six casinos in the U.K. and has another five under development.

Matching that move, Malaysian gambling company Genting Bhd. has agreed to pay US$1.19 billion to buy the 80 percent of Stanley Leisure that it doesn’t already own.

Stanley is the U.K.’s largest casino operator with 45 outlets, including four in London. Genting’s determination to get its hands on it can be measured by the fact the 860 pence (US$16.05) per share it paid was 26.4 percent higher than the trading price.

– John Gammon