CHAIRMAN AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Suncity Group Holdings
CHAIRMAN AND NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Summit Ascent Holdings
POWER SCORE: 2,689
POSITION LAST YEAR: 5
CLAIMS TO FAME
• Expanding Suncity from junket promoter to casino owner and operator via Hong Kong listed arm
• Increasing dominance in Macau junket market
• Top Macau native in city’s leading industry
After two years of VIP led recovery, Macau’s high end play has retreated amid slowing mainland China economic growth and Beijing’s increasing scrutiny of overseas capital transfers. But dominant junket promoter Suncity Group and its chairman Alvin Chau, the top ranked Macau native in the city’s biggest industry, have faced more serious challenges. So far, Suncity has not let those challenges define it or deter its goal of becoming a casino operator and resort owner.
On 7 July, Chinese state media outlet Economic Information Daily accused Suncity and Chau of steering junket players to online and proxy betting and using underground banking for settlements. Suncity denied the charges, and at a press conference Chau announced that Suncity would comply with Macau law wherever it conducts business, eschewing online and proxy betting even where allowed by local law.
Weeks later, Australian media implicated Suncity and Chau in reports linking Crown Resorts to Asian organized crime. Chau and the company denied the allegations, then closed Suncity’s VIP clubs in Australia, citing high costs and low demand, though a Suncity spokesperson says, “We maintain a very close relationship with Crown and The Star [Entertainment Group].”
Beyond the controversies, Suncity’s 34% owned integrated resort Hoiana is set to open its US$650 million first phase by early next year. The partnership with majority owner Chow Tai Fook Enterprises and local investment firm VinaCapital will begin with 140 gaming tables and 300 machines, more than 1,000 guest rooms and a golf course. The beachfront site in central Vietnam, close to the Hoi An UNESCO World Heritage area, measures nearly 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) and will be developed over a decade or more with estimated spending of US$4 billion.
Over the past year, Suncity Group Holdings, the Hong Kong listed arm that excludes junket operations, became the largest shareholder of Summit Ascent and Chau became its chairman, joining three Suncity colleagues as directors. Also listed in Hong Kong and once chaired by Lawrence Ho, Summit Ascent owns 60% of Tigre de Cristal, the first and so far only casino hotel operating in the Primorsky Entertainment Zone outside Vladivostok in far eastern Russia.
Tigre de Cristal has 65 tables, 340 machines and a 121-room hotel. Its first half net revenue rose 24% to HK$257 million (US$32.8 million). Union Gaming estimates that Suncity’s 29.68% stake, since reduced to 24.74% after the recent issuance of new shares, could help more than double Tigre Cristal’s 2020 VIP volume to HK$60 billion. The property is currently expanding F&B and has raised funds for a second phase to open in 2022, with a 350 room hotel, retail and indoor beach club.
Suncity’s regional footprint has reached Sihanoukville with a VIP room at Xi Hu Hotel, plus a management deal and 30% option in Golden Sun Sky’s US$360 million IR under development there. Suncity also signed a cooperation agreement with Korea’s Paradise Group for possible investment in its casino resort in Busan. In Japan, Suncity unveiled a Wakayama IR concept and acquired land to develop a resort in Okinawa.
It’s too soon to assess how well Suncity and Chau have withstood this year’s challenges. A clear indicator, albeit years away, will be whether Suncity gets a Macau gaming concession – the company says it so far has “no clear direction” on whether to pursue one. Evidence could come sooner in Chau’s pursuit of the shuttered Beijing Imperial Palace Hotel, former home of Greek Mythology casino, long ensnared in legal and regulatory issues.
For the full list of 2019 Asian Gaming Power 50 winners, click here.