Australia's Crown sells Macau gambling stake

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Sydney (AFP)

Casino mogul James Packer's Crown Resorts has offloaded part of its stake in Macau-focused Melco Crown Entertainment for US$800 million, as gaming revenue slumps in the Chinese territory.

Melco repurchased 155 million shares at US$5.17 each from a Crown subsidiary to lower the Packer company stake from 34.3 percent to 27.4 percent, the Australian-listed firm said in a statement late Wednesday.

"Crown intends to maintain a significant investment in Melco Crown Entertainment," the company added.

Shares in Crown, one of Australia's largest entertainment groups, rocketed 5.75 percent to Aus$12.50 in morning trade Thursday on the news.

As part of the deal, billionaire Packer, who is engaged to pop diva Mariah Carey, will step down as co-chair of Melco and become deputy chair.

The Australian owns 53 percent of Crown but in December resigned from the firm's day-to-day running to focus on projects in Australia and the United States.

Gambling revenue in Macau has been hit hard by China's corruption crackdown, and fell 34.3 percent to a five-year low of 230.84 billion patacas (US$28.92 billion) in 2015, the second-straight year of declines.

Casino operators in the semi-autonomous Chinese city are trying to lure mass-market visitors to make up for the drop in high-roller gamblers who comprise the bulk of former Portuguese colony's gaming income.