Sahara target of Pacific Rim group

Oct 24, 2006 7:44 AM

The Sahara’s next owners may have a distinctly Pacific Rim look to them, assuming that reports originating thousands of miles from Las Vegas are accurate.

James Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (JPL) and Lawrence Ho’s Melco International have already agreed on a joint venture casino project in Macau, thanks to the sub-concession JPL bought from Steve Wynn for $900 million earlier this year.

Melco is part of the Stanley Ho empire and Lawrence, his 29-year-old son, holds down the top job, according to the official chain of command. Melco goes back nearly a century in the Hong Kong area and was among the first 100 companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

As for Packer, his late dad was Kerry Packer, the legendary high-roller whose Las Vegas exploits over the years would fill a couple of books.

Melco and PBL apparently decided to be very international — Packer already has two casinos in Australia — and has understandably concluded that it is difficult to qualify as a leading international casino company without a presence in Las Vegas.

So, why the Sahara?

Well, it’s available, or seems to be, according to reports that the owners have been trolling for offers for several years, even as they routinely deny that they are doing anything of the sort.

Not that they appear to be in any hurry to sell. The surviving family members of the late Bill Bennett are not the picture of a family struggling to find cash. Perhaps it is merely nice to occasionally sit and chat with people who appear willing to throw a lot of money their way.

How much money in this case?

The Packer-Melco team is reportedly offering about $750 million, is what I hear.

Is the offer genuine and is it acceptable?

It’s hard to say. I thought the Sahara’s decision-makers were holding out for something closer to a billion, but it will eventually be sold to someone. That’s because the people running it now have projected a steadfast indifference to expansion possibilities.

Also, the Strip is a street of big dreams where real estate prices have been spiraling upward. What the Bennett family may be doing is contemplating a joint venture.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea, considering the growing international appetite among mega-rich companies for Strip investments.

There is another point to consider. Spokesmen for the Sahara have previously said they want a buyer to be easily licensable. Melco and PBL might both be licensed, but it is not something that would happen in a hurry.

But I always found it difficult to believe that the Sahara with its entrances on either the Strip or Paradise would be sold to anyone other than the Glenn Schaeffer and Turnberry Associates team planning the Fontainebleau on property south of the Sahara.

It must be nice to be so popular.