HONG KONG (Reuters) - Las Vegas Sands (LVS.N), the casino behemoth owned by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, said on Wednesday it plans to spend $1.1 billion on new projects in the world’s largest gambling hub, including building a London-themed attraction.
Sands, which owns five properties in the Chinese territory of Macau via its subsidiary Sands China (1928.HK), said it would renovate and rebrand Sands Cotai Central as The Londoner Macao by 2020.
Sands Cotai Central has been one of the company’s weakest properties, analysts said, due to its lack of character and tourist appeal when compared with Sands’ gondola-filled Venetian or its Parisian property that features a replica Eiffel Tower.
The timing of the Cotai renovation comes as operators in the former Portuguese colony of Macau such as MGM Resorts (MGM.N) and SJM Holdings (0880.HK) race to finish their planned resorts before casino licenses start to expire in 2020.
Authorities have been pushing Macau’s casino operators to diversify away from gambling because of their dependence on the industry which accounts for over 80 percent of government revenues.
Sands, which completed the Parisian in 2016, has now turned to revamping existing properties to further boost its appeal. The company said it would add new suites and rooms to its St Regis and Four Seasons properties and renovate VIP areas at the Venetian and Plaza Macau.
Sands, which reported earnings in line with analyst expectations on Wednesday, said net revenue for the third quarter was $3.2 billion.
Adelson, the first mover into Macau’s Cotai strip - once a dusty stretch of reclaimed land which now teems with glitz and cavernous gambling halls - said the market in Macau was continuing to recover.
“While we have invested over $13 billion in Macao since 2002... we see tremendous future opportunity in the Macao market as it continues to grow and evolve,” he said in a statement.
Analysts were mostly positive on the announcement although cautioned the renovations would bring some disruption over the next two years.
“In the long run should be value additive to the company. However dividend growth may be limited over next few years as FCF (free cash flow)is redirected to capital expenditure,” said Vitaly Umansky, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong.
Reporting by Farah Master