‘Buying a Lambo’: Casino shares surge 3180pc
THE Australian Securities Exchange has probed small cap casino owner Aquis Entertainment, after its shares rocketed as much as 3180 per cent in a week, yanking its market value from $873,000 to a high of $29.3 million.
AQS shares, which were trading at 2.5c at the start of February, have soared as high as 82c since February 19, when 17.2 million shares were traded in a single day. The price was driven up 490 per cent in one 44-minute spree.
The intriguing rally meant a holding worth $10,000 at the end of January could have sold for around $318,000 at the peak price of 82c.
The ASX briefly paused trading of Aquis shares and issued it a please explain over the flurry on February 18, but the company had no answers. Trading was not halted and continued its march on Friday, closing the week at 45c.
Aquis Entertainment, which operates the Canberra Casino, has posted five consecutive years of net losses and has been heavily impacted by COVID-19.
CEO Allison Gallaugher said Aquis was as baffled by the share price rise as anyone else.
"We don't know of any reason - there are no unannounced plans or information that anyone could be speculating on," she said on Friday.
"We can only assume things at the moment, but that's just us guessing."
Ms Gallaugher said Aquis was reviewing the trades daily, but its investigations were limited by delayed data, as share sales don't settle until three days after they are traded.
"It appears most of the volume is day trading, so people are buying and selling on the same day and we can't see who they are," she said.
"From what we can see, lots of people are buying small amounts of shares."
The listed company is chaired by Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung and is a branch of the wider Aquis Group, which has a base in Broadbeach Waters.
Aquis Australia operates the Gold Coast's successful Aquis Farm horse racing operations at Canungra, is part owner of a full city block in Surfers Paradise and had plans for a $440 million, 580-room hotel on the Surfers Paradise beachfront.
The company holds naming rights for Gold Coast's racetrack Aquis Park.
Aquis Entertainment has long-term plans for a $330 million redevelopment of its Canberra Casino, depite them being rejected by the ACT Government in 2018.
It has also indicated it was open to offers to buy the casino after a reported $32 million sale to funds manager iProsperity collapsed last year during the government's probity process.
The Star Entertainment Group's Gold Coast chief operating officer Jessica Mellor was chief executive officer of Aquis Entertainment before she joined Star in 2018.
A spokesman for Star declined to comment on whether or not it had any plans involving Aquis.
A spokeswoman for Crown Resorts, a company battling probity concerns of its own in Sydney, did not respond to questions about Aquis.
ASX's David Park declined to comment specifically.
"ASX employs a number of supervisory actions to prevent disorderly trading and keep the market informed," he said.
"Sometimes the company will declare, legitimately, it has no explanation."
The sudden popularity of the small-scale stock is reminiscent of price movements on US company Gamestop, which rose as much as 1914 per cent in January after social media pundits poured cash into the previously-lacklustre stock.
The Gamestop rally followed, and was partly a response to, extensive short positioning of the stock by large hedge funds.
However, short position reports from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission have no records of any short selling on Aquis Entertainment.
On web trading forums, theories are rife of potential unannounced takeovers of Aquis Entertainment or a co-ordinated "pump and dump" effort by groups on social media to manipulate the price.
"Whoever jumped in at 25c is probably buying a Lambo now," said one Hot Copper pundit.
Ms Gallaugher said Aquis had been trawling social media sites to see whether a Gamestop-style campaign was under way, but had failed to unearth anything.
'We're as unaware as anyone else (about why this is happening)," she said.
"Except the people buying, they know why."
Originally published as 'Buying a Lambo': Casino shares surge 3180pc