Melco Resorts Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho has described the acquisition of a 19.99% stake in Australian casino operator Crown Resorts as an opportunity to bolster his company’s Japan ambitions.
Answering questions at a special media roundtable in Macau on Tuesday, Ho said he welcomed the impending probity checks by Australian authorities that will precede any future representation on the Crown Resorts board, adding that Melco had deliberately established a strong track record of operating within heavily regulated markets.
“We are always happy to go through the regulatory process,” the 43-year-old said. “I think if anything, if you look at our track record of developing our global footprint overseas, we always prefer jurisdictions where there is a strong governance and strong regulatory regime which is why we’ve shied away from some of the other smaller Asian countries where their regulatory regime wasn’t as developed. Again it will further demonstrate to Japan that we are a global player that is not afraid of compliance and probity reviews.”
Ho is no stranger to Australian probity checks, having previously been vetted by regulators in Victoria and Western Australia during the formative years of the once powerful Melco-Crown partnership and again by New South Wales regulators in 2014 after Crown was given the green light to develop its AU$2.2 billion Crown Sydney project at Barangaroo.
While he noted on Tuesday that “this time it is a little bit different” due to becoming a direct shareholder in Crown, he added “in any case, I am very comfortable.”
More importantly, however, Ho said the acquisition of Crown shares was aimed at building a strong international portfolio as part of its bid for a Japanese IR license.
“From Melco’s perspective it is really a continuation of our expansion globally that we’ve been doing the past few years,” he explained.
“With this transaction we’ve instantly gone from three countries – Macau, Manila, Cyprus – to five because it includes three properties in Australia and also London (Crown operates high-end casino Crown Aspinalls in London’s West End). From that perspective it ticks all of our boxes and continues the good work we’ve been doing in Japan.
“Japan is our ultimate goal and everything we’ve been building the past few years is really to build up a strong showcase. With the Australian and London assets, it continues to accelerate our operation for Japan.”
Ho also confirmed his long-term intention of acquiring a bigger stake in Crown, while in the short-term he suggested Melco could help the Australian operator regain a foothold in Asia’s premium gaming segment. Crown was famously forced to pull back from actively pursuing Chinese VIPs following the arrests of 19 employees in mainland China in 2016.
“Subject to discussions with the Crown management team in due course, that is an area we can help or supplement,” Ho said.
“Having three more jurisdictions in Australia and another in London where we can send our players to is a benefit to our guest experience and what we can provide our guests. That will then naturally help Crown with their business.”