Sands declines comment on report about Macau sale

Las Vegas (AP) — Casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp. declined to comment Monday on a Hong Kong newspaper’s report that Sands might sell the first foreign-owned casino in the Chinese island of Macau under a leaseback arrangement worth USD 1.3 billion.

Spokesman Ron Reese in Las Vegas said the company would not comment on the South China Morning Post report, which cited unidentified sources.

Reese noted that the owner of the Sands, Venetian and Four Seasons properties in Macau has previously said it was approached by investors interested in buying into its operations in the Chinese gambling enclave.

The newspaper reported online Monday that the casino operator was considering selling the Sands Macao casino, which was Macau’s first foreign-owned casino when it was finished in 2004 after China lifted restrictions on casino ownership there.

Las Vegas Sands has been struggling as gambling revenue stopped growing and in many cases has fallen amid the global economic downturn.

The company lost USD 188.8 million in fiscal 2008, which ended Dec. 31, compared with a profit of USD 116.7 million in 2007. It had USD 10.47 billion in long-term debt as of Dec. 31, according to its 2008 annual report.

Billionaire CEO Sheldon Adelson told The Associated Press in March that he and the company’s new president and chief operating officer, Michael A. Leven, recently traveled to China to meet with groups interested in buying into the company, including two construction companies interested in financing and building two suspended Sands hotel projects in Macau in exchange for equity.

„They’re serious people with serious intent and deep enough pockets,“ Adelson said then.

Sands has lowered its staffing levels in Macau to reflect current needs but is pressing ahead with a development in Singapore and plans to open its USD 743 million casino in Bethlehem, Pa., on time in May, though it has put off finishing the restaurants, entertainment and other non-gambling elements planned there.

The company reported in February that it lost USD 136.5 million in its fourth quarter, in contrast with a profit of USD 39.9 million in the same period a year earlier, as gambling markets declined.