By Dave Sebastian
Las Vegas Sands Corp. agreed to sell its Las Vegas properties to Apollo Global Management Inc. and a real-estate investment trust for about $6.25 billion as the casino operator exits the gambling hub to focus on its core Asia operations.
Sands' sale of the Venetian Resort and its convention center comes as the Covid-19 pandemic has roiled the casino industry with temporary shutdowns, reduced travel and limited occupancies. Hopes for a recovery in Las Vegas this year depend on how many tourists and business travelers will return after vaccines are widely distributed.
The casino operator had said in October that it was considering a sale of the Vegas assets. After the death of founder Sheldon Adelson in January, Sands executives said the company would continue to invest in its Singapore and Macau casinos, which generate most of the company's revenue.
"As we announce the sale of the Venetian Resort, we pay tribute to Mr. Adelson's legacy while starting a new chapter in this company's history, " Chief Executive Officer Robert Goldstein said Wednesday. "Asia remains the backbone of this company, and our developments in Macau and Singapore are the center of our attention."
Sands plans to keep its headquarters in Las Vegas, a spokesman said. The company has been considering expansion opportunities in New York and Texas, Sands executives have said, and it will also explore opportunities in online gambling.
Shares of Sands hit a new 52-week high Wednesday and ended 1.3% higher at $65.82. The sale could lead Sands to return some of that money to shareholders, likely through dividends, which had been paused since last year, Jefferies analyst David Katz said.
Apollo said it sees demand at Las Vegas properties rebounding as people travel more and business meetings resume.
"This investment also underscores our conviction in a strong recovery for Las Vegas as vaccines usher in a reopening of leisure and travel in the United States and across the world," Apollo partner Alex van Hoek said.
Apollo has previously invested in Vegas casinos. In 2008, Apollo and TPG completed a $30 billion leveraged buyout of Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which loaded the company with debt on the eve of Las Vegas's longest and deepest recession. The company renamed itself Caesars Entertainment Corp. and in 2015 filed for bankruptcy protection of its largest unit, which had $18 billion in debt.
Apollo recently has raised its bets on the gambling industry. The private-equity giant agreed to buy Canadian casino operator Great Canadian Gaming Corp. in November and eyed U.K. bookmaker William Hill PLC last year before deciding against making an offer.
Under the Sands deal, funds tied to Apollo will buy subsidiaries that hold the operating assets and liabilities of Sands' Las Vegas business for about $1.05 billion in cash and $1.2 billion in seller financing in the form of a term loan credit and security agreement, Sands said. REIT Vici Properties Inc. will buy subsidiaries that hold the real estate and real-estate-related assets of the Venetian for about $4 billion in cash.
The Apollo funds will also enter into a long-term lease pact with Vici for the properties, the companies said.
The Venetian resort comprises a 35-story hotel tower with some 3,000 suites, a 12-story tower with about 1,000 suites and the 50-story Palazzo Tower, which has about 3,000 suites, according to its 2019 annual securities filing. The resort has about 225,000 square feet of gambling space, the company said in the filing.
The Sands Expo and Convention Center has about 1.2 million gross square feet of exhibit and meeting space, the company said. It also has about 1.1 million square feet of meeting and conference facilities that link the center with the Venetian resort.
The Sands and Mr. Adelson have long been connected with Las Vegas.
Mr. Adelson launched Computer Dealers Exposition, or Comdex, which became a hugely successful trade exhibit held in Las Vegas and other cities. In 1988, needing space for his own exhibition center in the city to accommodate growing crowds, he bought the Sands hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip for $110 million, opening up a new line of business.
He tore down the Sands and built in its place the Venetian Resort, featuring a canal replica with singing gondoliers. His bet was that conventions and trade shows were a surer way to keep rooms filled than a pure focus on gambling.
Las Vegas as a conference destination started booming in the 1990s after Mr. Adelson bought his space, said David Schwartz, a casino historian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Before that, casinos saw conventions as a way to fill space during the week, but they weren't a major money maker, he said.
"A lot of people in Las Vegas thought it was a really dumb thing, but [Mr. Adelson] focused on it," Mr. Schwartz said. "The demand was there."
The pandemic curtailed much of that travel and caused closures on the Strip. One in three people in Las Vegas was unemployed in April 2020 after casinos shut down, pummeling the broader hospitality industry -- Nevada's biggest employer -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In December, the preliminary unemployment rate in the metro area fell to 10.4%, BLS said.
Business travel for conferences and trade shows is expected to pick up in the second half of the year, though it will take a few years until they reach pre-pandemic levels, hospitality executives have said.
What the deal would mean for the local economy will depend on the new owners' plans for the properties, Mr. Schwartz said. Apollo's Mr. van Hoek said the firm sees a "significant opportunity to invest in and accelerate the growth of the Venetian Resort."
Write to Dave Sebastian at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires