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Monday, December 17, 2007

Lasseters plans to buy resorts, hotels in Malaysia

Gaming firm Lasseters International Holdings (LIH) Bhd said it plans to acquire resorts and hotels in Malaysia and integrate the business with its properties in Australia and New Zealand.

LIH is looking at investing in Malaysia for the first time, but it won't be through joint ventures, executive chairman Datuk Jaya J.B. Tan said.

"We plan to buy and operate up-market resorts and hotels in Sabah and Sarawak. Tourism in the two states is booming and we feel now would be the right time to invest there," Tan told Business Times in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.

LIH, listed in Singapore in 2004, has a strong asset base in Australia.

Tan said the combined net valuation of LIH and Singapore-listed Etika International Holdings Ltd, a food and beverage group, which he controls with his brother, is around S$145 million (RM332 million).

LIH currently owns Lasseters Hotel Casino in Alice Springs and 13 hotels and pubs with some 750 gaming facilities across four states in Australia.

The company, through Australian-listed Cypress Lakes Group Ltd, also owns Cypress Lakes Resort - Golden Door Spa, a Health Retreat - more than 200 villas and a destination convention centre.

Tan, a former executive chairman of Pengkalan Holdings Bhd, said LIH also operates an Australian-based tier-one online casino and spot betting.

In New Zealand, the company had acquired Wharf Casino by assuming all its debt.

"This was one of six gaming licences issued in New Zealand. The government has said it won't issue new ones so we decided to grab the chance after doing a due diligence," said Tan.

Tan said LIH is expected to spend close to RM18 million next year to refurbish some of the properties and uplift the profile.

Tan, through his privately-held company, Radiant Investments Ltd, also has a 51 per cent interest in Grand Imperial Saigon Hotel Ltd, which operates the Park Hyatt Hotel Saigon in Vietnam, established in 2005 for US$60 million (RM199 million).

According to Tan, there is a dispute with the shareholder of United Concord International Ltd who had mismanaged the hotel during construction, resulting in cost overruns of RM28 million, some of which were unauthorised.

He said the stakeholder, currently general director and chairman of the hotel, also refuses to relinquish the post despite an 81 per cent equity vote calling for him to do so.

"The first instance hearing where the 81 per cent equity vote was invalidated in favour of unanimous vote had shaken our convictions in Vietnam. We are now appealing to the supreme review court in Hanoi to give us a fair hearing of the case," Tan said.

By New Straits Times (by Sharen Kaur)

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