Tabcorp said out of Casino talks

Sydney (Reuters) – Australian wagering firm Tabcorp Holdings was no longer in talks with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group on plans to develop a USD 3 billion (1.5 billion pound) casino in Macau, sources familiar with the situation said Monday.

However, Virgin was still talking to other potential partners on plans to build and run a casino and resort development in Macau, a former Portuguese territory in southern China, one source said.

Billionaire Branson visited Macau along with Tabcorp boss Matthew Slatter only last month to look at potential sites and partners, but both sides have since failed to reach a deal.

„We can’t see that (partnership) going anywhere. These things happen all the time,“ one source said, adding discussions had only been in the early stages.

Another source said Virgin was still talking to a number of other potential partners on the development in Macau, which is already home to a large gambling industry.

„Virgin are obviously moving forward and still talking to partners,“ the source said.

Tabcorp and Virgin declined to comment.

Sources had said last month that Virgin and Tabcorp were in talks on the casino project. Tabcorp had expected to play a major role in developing and operating the project, which would have retained the Virgin brand.

Tabcorp owns four of Australia’s 13 casinos and is looking for growth opportunities after its former takeover target, UNiTAB, merged with Australian lottery operator Tattersall’s Ltd. .

Recently-listed Melco PBL Entertainment (Macau) Ltd. — a joint venture of Australian media firm Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd. and Hong Kong firm Melco International Development Ltd. — is planning to build three casinos in Macau.

Macau recently dethroned Las Vegas as the world’s biggest gambling centre, with some analysts predicting its gambling market could more than double to USD 14 billion in revenue by 2010.

Shares in Tabcorp, which reports first-half results on Wednesday, were trading 0.8 percent firmer at AUD 17.77 at 4:49 a.m., British time.