Billionaire Lawrence Ho has increased his ownership stake in Melco Resorts, the Hong Kong casino company he founded in 2004 that owns and operates properties in Macau and Manila.

Lawrence Ho Melco Resorts stock

Lawrence Ho is betting more money on Melco Resorts, the company he serves as chairman and CEO. (Image: Anthony Wallace/AFP)

In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Melco reports that Ho – and business units controlled by him – have acquired an additional three percent of the total company. The purchase, which was approved by the Melco Resorts board, takes Ho’s stake to 54.6 percent.

Traded on Nasdaq, Melco Resorts has lost much value in 2018, as have most publicly traded casino stocks. Shares began the year at $28.20, and closed yesterday at $15.70, a 44 percent plunge.

Optimism Abound

Despite a dismal year for gaming industry investors, numerous analysts have recently opined that there are many current buying opportunities.

Last week, Japanese brokerage firm Nomura said in a note that casino operators with properties in Macau are positioned for 20 percent growth in 2019. After “taking a beating in 2018,” the analysts said an increase in visitation fueled through better mass market appeal in the enclave will grow bottom lines for casino resorts.

Jefferies gaming analyst David Katz shares the outlook, telling CNBC earlier this month that “everything looks like a screaming buy.” He concluded, “As I look across casinos, particularly those that are domestic, but Macau as well, they all look attractive.”

Ho increasing his holdings in Melco Resorts shows the 42-year-old worth an estimated $1.7 billion is also optimistic regarding his company’s future.

Melco was founded as Melco International Development as a joint venture with Crown Limited, the Australian gaming empire of Ho’s former business partner, fellow billionaire James Packer. Melco Crown, as the group came to be known, dissolved in 2017 and rebranded as Melco Resorts after Crown Resorts employees were arrested and charged with gambling-related crimes in China.

Ho disassociated from Packer, and told reporters that Crown was “deliberately spitting on our faces.”

Macau Masses

Macau is undergoing a rebirth of sorts, as the enclave continues its overhaul to become a tourism destination that attracts the general public.

After VIP junket groups catering to mainland high rollers were suppressed in part of China President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, the multibillion-dollar resorts needed to bring in new travelers to keep their thousands of hotel rooms occupied. The Macau Government Tourism Office expects 35 million people to visit the enclave this year, an eight percent increase.

While Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said recently that the company remains committed to the premium guest, Ho says the mass market provides better returns. In a Bloomberg interview earlier this year, the billionaire explained that gaming margins on mass play are “four times higher” than VIP.

Gross gambling revenue is up over 14 percent in 2018. Many gaming analysts predict the enclave will cool off in 2019 and post its first annual GGR decline since 2016.

But Nomura added that even at a three percent GGR decrease, the casinos are poised to increase their bottom lines through added revenue from other areas.