Petaling Jaya: Tan Sri Low Yow Chuan, the driver behind one of the oldest property development groups in the country, revealed that he has the “first right of refusal” for a second casino licence and plans to build an integrated resort, if the Government approves of one.
The licence was granted in 1970 by Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to the 81-year-old patriarch of the Low Yat group and reaffirmed in 1993. By then, the Prime Minister was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
According to Yow Chuan, Tunku offered to issue him with a casino licence in 1970, when the former was in his late 30s, on condition the Low Yat group builds a hotel and a country club in Langkawi.
Low Yat Construction Company Sdn Bhd was one of few Class A contractors accredited with the Public Works Department at the time.
Yow Chuan’s father, the late Tan Sri Low Yat founded Low Yat Construction in 1947. Low Yat built the country’s first international class hotel, Federal Hotel, in Kuala Lumpur in time for Malaysia’s independence celebration on Aug 31, 1957.
The group also ventured into property development under the umbrella of Asia Pacific Land Bhd (AP Land), which was listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange and the Stock Exchange of Singapore in 1969. In 2011, Low’s family-owned company, Low Chuan Holdings Sdn Bhd, the substantial shareholder of AP Land, acquired the entire assets and liabilities of the listed company and took the company private.
Yow Chuan said the hotel and club project in Langkawi cost some RM100mil to build and was completed in 1973. He did not proceed to open a casino on the island because he said Langkawi was still remote without the necessary supporting infrastructure to support a casino then.
“We had to use our own resources to build the project as there was no grant or allocation from the Government to help finance the construction cost. We could not afford to fork out further capital outlay to support a casino operation then,” Yow Chuan said in an interview with StarBiz.
Instead, Yow Chuan sought the blessings of Tunku to set up a casino in Penang but the plan also fell through because of land alienation issues with the state government.
In August 1993, Yow Chuan wrote to the Treasury on the status of the casino licence.
The Treasury responded in a letter two months later, stating that “the Government has no intention of issuing a casino licence presently, but if however, a reverse decision is made, Yow Chuan would be given an opportunity for ‘a right of first refusal’,” said Yow Chuan.
The history of how the casino licence was granted by the Tunku in 1970 brought back fond memories for Yow Chuan, who was honoured the prestigious (Kuala Lumpur) Mayor’s Commendable Award for Outstanding Contribution at the Kuala Lumpur Mayor’s Tourism Awards (KLMTA) 2014 last month.
Yow Chuan said the group wanted to exercise its prerogative, should a second casino licence be granted, to apply to the Government to build an integrated resort with a casino complex.
The integrated resort project is estimated to involve an investment of between RM3bil and RM4bil.
Yow Chuan feels that casinos these days need not necessarily focus fully on gaming to market themselves, as Asians are increasingly responding to well-designed integrated resorts that meet the latest lifestyle and entertainment trends like food, live shows, theatres and themed retail stores.
The subject of a second casino licence cropped up recently when Berjaya group founder Tan Sri Vincent Tan disclosed that he was keen to apply for a licence to operate a resort cum casino at the group’s Berjaya Hills Resort in Pahang.
He revealed plans to invest up to RM3bil to set up a casino complex, indoor and outdoor theme parks, food and retail outlets, hotels, a convention centre and holiday homes in the resort area, if the application is approved.
The Genting group is the sole casino operator in the country now. Genting Highlands opened for business on May 8, 1971 and has since used those operations to build casino cum resorts in Singapore, the United States, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
This is not the first time the issue of a second casino for Malaysia has cropped up. The last time it was raised was more than 10 years ago when Berjaya made its first bid for a casino licence. Its application was rejected due to protests from various social groups.
Yow Chuan’s disclosure that he has the “right of first refusal” means that should the Government decide to issue a second casino licence, it has more than one serious contender.
According to Yow Chuan, if his plans for the integrated resort project is approved, he would be able to add a new tourist destination to attract more visitors to the country.
If it happens, the project will mark a comeback of the tireless builder.