Crown in hunt for new casinos

Crown says it is still in the hunt for „compelling“ US casino acquisitions despite slashing some of its existing US investments by AUD 181 million.

Crown took the knife to the AUD 414 million book values of minority stakes in Harrah’s Entertainment and Stations Casino Group, just six months after buying them.

Its 19.6 per cent stake in Fontainebleau in Las Vegas was included in the writedown, along with a AUD 45 million loss flagged earlier this year when it quit plans for a Crown Las Vegas casino resort.

Despite the new writedowns Crown chief executive Rowen Craigie said the company, while cautious, had not become completely gun shy.

„I think in the current environment everyone is more cautious about investments,“ he said. „If and when a compelling opportunity came up in the US local space, where we think we’re well suited, we’d have a look at that, but we’d be looking for a majority interest and control role.“

Crown split from James Packer’s gaming and media group Publishing and Broadcasting last year, although Mr Packer remains its executive chairman.

Crown yesterday unveiled a AUD 370.1 million normalised net profit for the year to June 30.

Reported net profit of AUD 3.56 billion was inflated by one-off results of discontinued operations and net gains from the demerger of PBL.

Crown shares fell 3 to AUD 8.20, with scrip off almost 40 per cent since the start of the year.

Normalised earnings before interest depreciation and amortisation from Melbourne’s Crown casino rose 6.4 per cent to AUD 433.3 million, while normalised EBITDA from Perth’s Burswood casino were up 12.6 per cent to AUD 195.3 million.

Mr Craigie said a tougher trading environment coupled with disruptions from refurbishment programs meant the earnings growth rate from the Australian casino business was likely to slow from about 8.2 per cent in fiscal 2008 to between 4 per cent and 6 per cent in fiscal 2009.

He said earnings from the company’s VIP customers would likely buffer an earnings fall from the „low end“ of the casino business.

„Interest rates, petrol prices and consumer sentiment will tend to affect the low end of the business more than the high end,“ he said.

The Melco Crown Entertainment joint venture in Macau, in which Crown has a 37.9 per cent interest, made a net loss of USD 44.2 million (AUD 50.7 million) for the year.

MPEL‘s City of Dreams casino resort on Macau’s Cotai strip is on track to open in the first half of 2009.

Crown also said yesterday that Rob Turner, executive vice-president, international business development, would replace Geoff Kleemann as chief financial officer.

Mr Kleemann will head up investor relations on a part-time basis from next year.

Crown declared a final dividend of 29, franked at 40 per cent. The record date for the dividend is October 10, with payment expected on October 17.