Soccer bosses buy Sun International's Carousel casino licence

Monday 7th December 2020

The old Carousel Casino complex in the North West is set to come back to life. Image: Supplied

Businessman and football club boss Mario Morfou and his brother George - the former owners of Premier Soccer League (PSL) club Mpumalanga Black Aces - are making a play into South Africa's mainstream gaming and hospitality industry.

Moneyweb can reveal that the Morfou brothers are the purchasers of the Carousel casino licence from JSE-listed gaming giant Sun International, which closed down the North West complex earlier this year.

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Mario Morfou, chair of the Lakama Group. Image: Supplied

Sun International confirmed in a statement on Monday that the casino licence has been sold, but the sale is subject to regulatory approval from the North West Gaming Board. The group, which also owns the Sun City casino resort in the province, did not mention to whom or at what price the Carousel licence was sold.

However, a notice issued by the North West Gaming Board in late September reveals that Sun International - via Sun Carousel (Pty) Ltd - had applied for the casino licence to be transferred to Melrose Arch-based Lakama Resorts and Casino (Pty) Ltd.

Lakama Resorts registered as a company earlier this year and is linked to the Lakama Group, which is chaired by Mario Morfou.

The main group is involved in "workforce services" for the construction, mining and power station sectors, with services including catering, accommodation and transport.

Mario Morfou is also managing director of Morfou Properties, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Family business

The Morfou brothers, who also have interests in the LPM (limited payout machines) and bingo side of the gaming industry, are still involved in soccer and currently own Joburg-based third division team Alex Black Aces. They sold Mpumalanga Black Aces in 2016 (to John Comits, who changed the club's name to Cape Town City Football Club after its base was moved to the Mother City).

Read: Sun International's closed Carousel casino property up for sale

In its statement on the sale of its Carousel Casino licence, Sun International said that a regulatory application has been submitted to the North West Gambling Board and is now following due process.

Significantly, the casino as well hotel bars and restaurants at the complex will now reopen on December 15, under an interim management company appointed by Sun International.

"Earlier this year we announced that we would not reopen the Carousel Casino after lockdown restrictions were lifted, and that remains the case," said Sun International CEO Anthony Leeming.

"However, by allowing the casino to be run by a management company, we will be protecting the livelihoods of many previous staff who can now be re-employed."

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"We remain the legal owner of the gambling licence until such time as we receive [North West] Gambling Board approval for the sale. But the casino will no longer form part of the Sun International Group, and it will not receive benefits from our Most Valued Guest/MVG loyalty programme," he added.

Speaking to Moneyweb, a cautious Mario Morfou confirmed that Lakama Group is the purchaser of the Carousel Casino licence.

However, he pointed out that the group is not one of the current bidders for the casino complex property itself.

"We plan to rent the premises.... We already have a few interests in the gaming industry, which is mainly in the LPM and bingo market in the North West and Limpopo," he said.

"When the Carousel Casino licence came up for sale, we thought it would be a good opportunity to expand Lakama's interests in the gaming and hospitality industry," added Morfou.

He noted that the group would also leverage off its experience in running accommodation establishments, hinting that the new Lakama Resorts and Casino venture could see the group expand into more mainstream hotel operations.

"As it stands, we have only offered to purchase the casino licence," he said.

"We have a number of properties already in the North West and believe there is a market there to make the casino work."

John Jack, CEO of Galetti Corporate Real Estate, tells Moneyweb that the group is currently evaluating six bids it has received for the Carousel Casino property. The group was appointed by Sun International to handle the sale of the 583-hectare property, which includes the casino, a hotel, staff accommodation quarters and vacant land which also includes retail development rights.

"We hope to announce a winning bidder soon and have been pleased with the strong level of interest we have received.... This illustrates the potential of the property. The fact that the casino is reopening is also good news," he said.

"Many of the bidders are looking at converting a large part of the property into a retail centre, which will make the complex more sustainable and attract more people.... We have a positive outlook for what can be achieved here."

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