(Bloomberg) -- Galaxy Entertainment Group. Ltd. agreed to buy a stake in Wynn Resorts Ltd., in a surprise move that could have implications for the casino industry in the U.S. and China.
Wynn Resorts sold 5.3 million newly issued shares of common stock to Galaxy, giving the competing Macau casino operator a 4.9 percent stake in the company, according to a statement Thursday. The shares were sold at close to the market price of $175 each, for a total of about $927.5 million.
Separately, T.Rowe Price and Capital Research and Management Co. two long-term institutional investors, agreed to purchase the remaining 8 million shares held by founder and former Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn, who quit last month amid sexual-misconduct allegations. Wynn Resorts shares rose 1.7 percent to $177.24 as 2:26 p.m. in New York.
“This is a unique opportunity to acquire an investment in a globally recognized entertainment corporation with exceptionally high quality assets and a significant development pipeline,” Galaxy Entertainment Group Vice Chairman Francis Lui said in a statement.
The agreement, linking the largest Macau casino company with a major U.S. operator, could shake up the global gambling industry at a pivotal time. Macau, the world’s biggest gaming hub, is expected to unveil plans in coming months for how it will review and give out casinos licenses. The Galaxy-Wynn tie-up could be an opening for the local business to win more of the $33 billion market from U.S. operators.
The sale of new shares to Galaxy, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Lui Che-Woo, positions the company as a potential suitor if Wynn Resorts were up for sale.
“Over the longer run, Galaxy may be a potential acquirer of Wynn Macau, and the initial purchase gives Galaxy a first bite at the company,” according to a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. note by analysts led by Vitaly Umansky. While he said Galaxy may not want to buy all of Wynn Resorts, “a Galaxy acquisition of Wynn Macau assets would create the leading Macau gaming company.”
The fast-moving developments at Wynn Resorts were sparked by Steve Wynn’s departure in February following allegations of sexual misconduct. While the Las Vegas-based company is under investigation by casino regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts, its Macau unit, along with other operators in Macau, is also facing uncertainties as the territory plans to lay out rebidding details of casino concession licenses that will start to expire from 2020.
“The risk of potentially not regaining the Macau gaming concession specifically due to allegations against Steve Wynn are too great not to be immediately dealt with,” said David Bonnet, partner at Delta State Holdings Ltd. “With Galaxy now as a major shareholder, it reduces the potential uncomfortable questions that any gaming regulators, specifically Macau regulators, will have in the upcoming license rebidding.”
The investment also comes as some analysts speculate Beijing is seeking to reduce foreign interests in the gaming industry in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.
“This Wynn saga may represent an unforeseen opportunity,” said Ben Lee, a Macau-based managing partner at Asian gaming consultancy IGamiX. “The theory is that the word may have been passed down from Beijing to do so now ahead of the concession process.”
Galaxy’s investment in Wynn follows its expansion plans beyond Macau. It received a casino license with a local partner in the Philippines this month to build a $500 million resort, and is also looking at a potential opportunity to enter the Japanese market after the country legalized casino gambling.
The investment in Wynn Resorts will give Galaxy more exposure to Macau’s VIP gaming segment and also put the company on a global stage through its connection to a U.S.-based gaming giant, said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Margaret Huang. Galaxy would need about $8.7 billion acquire majority control of Wynn Resorts, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysis.
Wynn Resorts plans to use the proceeds from the Galaxy sale to repay an $800 million loan it took out to settle a longstanding feud with Universal Entertainment Corp., one of its original investors.
Steve Wynn sold his remaining shares for $175 each, or $1.4 billion. The transaction followed the earlier sale of 4.1 million shares, also announced Thursday.
Since stepping down, Steve Wynn settled a six-year fight with his ex-wife Elaine Wynn, giving her the right to vote and sell her roughly 9 percent stake in the company. The company also settled its battle with Universal, agreeing to consult with that company’s casino in the Philippines. Under new CEO Matt Maddox, several long-serving members of Wynn Resorts’ board have left the company.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.