August 9, 2018 / 12:10 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 3-Australia's Crown annual profit jumps as Asian gamblers return, shares up

* Crown annual profit A$386.6 mln vs A$366 mln analyst view

* VIP turnover up 54.5 pct to A$51.5 bln

* Shares trading at three-year high (Adds shares, analyst quote)

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Australia’s biggest casino operator, Crown Resorts Ltd, said on Thursday its annual profit rose 12.7 percent, beating expectations and sending its shares to a three-year high, as resurgent demand from high-stakes gamblers boosted turnover.

Normalised net profit, which is adjusted to remove extraneous items, for the year ending June 30 rose to A$386.8 million ($287.4 million) from A$343.1 million a year earlier, the company said. The figure came above the A$366.3 million estimated by a poll of nine analysts, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The company said that turnover from VIPs - generally wealthy Chinese tourists - shot up 54.5 percent in the year.

“VIP program play turnover in Australia of $51.5 billion was a pleasing outcome,” said Crown Executive Chairman John Alexander.

The uptick in VIP gambling spells brighter days for Crown after its billionaire 47-percent owner James Packer unexpectedly stood down form the board earlier this year, citing concerns over his mental health.

A mild recovery in Crown’s interim earnings pointed to a return of Chinese high-rollers, many of whom had put off overseas gambling jaunts amid a Chinese government campaign against shows of wealth among public officials.

The company quit a casino joint venture in the gambling island hub of Macau and cancelled other overseas expansion plans in 2016 after 17 of its staff were arrested in China for marketing gambling tours, a crime on the mainland.

Crown shares were up 5.4 percent by midsession, their highest intraday level since March 2015, and higher than the level they were trading at before the China arrests.

“VIP was the highlight, well exceeding our expectations,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a client note.

Crown declared a final dividend of 30 cents per share, in line with its final dividend for 2017. ($1 = 1.3459 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Byron Kaye in SYDNEY and Ambar Warrick in BENGALURU; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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