Macau mogul takes punt on Russian casino project

Lawrence Ho, chairman of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., poses for a portrait in Macau, China, on Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Macau gambling magnate Lawrence Ho is set to extend his global reach after two of his companies entered into an agreement to bu
Lawrence Ho, chairman of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., poses for a portrait in Macau, China, on Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Macau gambling magnate Lawrence Ho is set to extend his global reach after two of his companies entered into an agreement to build a casino resort in a Russian entertainment zone that is a short flight away for cash-rich Chinese gamblers. -- FILE PHOTO: PRITAM SINGH

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Macau gambling magnate Lawrence Ho is set to extend his global reach after two of his companies entered into an agreement to build a casino resort in a Russian entertainment zone that is a short flight away for cash-rich Chinese gamblers.

Mr Ho, who owns Melco Crown Entertainment along with Australian billionaire James Packer, owns casinos in the world's largest gambling destination Macau and is building a casino resort in the Philippines.

Melco International Development Ltd. and Summit Ascent Holdings Ltd, both owned by Ho, will together will acquire a 51 percent stake worth in a Russian casino resort near the port city of Vladivostok which is a 2-1/2 hour flight from Beijing and close to three northeastern Chinese provinces.

Some foreign casino operators have taken a more cautious view about investing in the Valdivostok gambling and entertainment zone due to regulatory concerns.

Vladivostok, better known more for its oil and gas pipelines, will also face competition from the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea, which are setting up similar tourism and entertainment zones to lure Asian gamblers, in particular cashed-up Chinese.

The total investment cost of the Russian project is expected to be US$130 million (S$166 million), compared to US$1 billion for Melco Crown's new casino complex in Manila. Both of Mr Ho's companies will commit capital together with Russian partner Oleg Drozdov, a local businessman engaged in real estate.

Mr Ho is the scion of Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho. Both his Philippines and Russian casino resorts are expected to open next year.