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LV Sands might sell Macau casino

28 April 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas Sands Corp. may be considering selling its Sands Macau but would still operate the casino on a lease-back agreement.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong cited unnamed sources in a report Monday but didn't name a buyer. The Sands Macau opened in 2004 and marked the first American owned casino in Macau.

Company spokesman Ron Reese wouldn't comment on the story. He said Las Vegas Sands, which also operates the Venetian Macau and a Four Seasons hotel on the Cotai Strip region of Macau, had been approached earlier this year by investors interested in buying into its operations.

Under the proposed deal, according to the newspaper, Las Vegas Sands would sell the building but continue to run the casino under its gaming license. The landlord would receive rent payments based on the casino's performance. The arrangement was reportedly worth $1.3 billion.

Las Vegas Sands has been attempting to sell its shopping mall attached to the Venetian Macau.

In March, Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson told The Associated Press he and company President Michael Leven traveled to China to meet with groups interested in buying into the company. Reportedly, two construction companies were interested in financing and building two of the company's suspended projects on the Cotai Strip. Last year, the company suspended development of four hotel-casino projects in Macau.

"They're serious people with serious intent and deep enough pockets," Adelson told the wire service.

Earlier this month, Adelson and rival Macau casino operator, Hong Kong gaming tycoon Stanley Ho, met over lunch at the Venetian Macau.

Reese described the two-hour meeting as "warm and friendly" to Bloomberg News.

Adelson, 75, and Ho, 87, decided to put aside their long-standing differences to try and come up with ways to boost Macau's sagging gaming revenues.

Las Vegas Sands ended Ho's monopoly on the Macau casino market with the opening of the Sands Macau. The August 2007 opening of the Venetian Macau helped change the market and Las Vegas Sands was in the midst of a $12 billion building spree on Macau's Cotai Strip when the bottom fell out of the company last year.

Adelson and Ho have criticized each other publicly in the past, but Ho only had compliments after the meeting.

"Everyone agreed not to compete, to have enough rice to eat and to get more taxes for the government," Ho reportedly said after the lunch, adding the two will meet again in May.

Las Vegas Sands has struggled during the economic downturn. The company lost $188.8 million in 2008 compared with a profit of $116.7 million in 2007. The company has almost $10.5 billion in long term debt.