Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world's largest lender by market value, said on Wednesday it would pay 4.68 billion patacas (US$583 million) for 80 percent of Macau's Seng Heng Bank, giving it a foothold in the booming gaming territory.

While the deal is small for ICBC, it gives the Beijing-controlled lender access to a market that has seen gaming revenue overtake that of the Las Vegas strip, with billions of dollars in investment planned by global casino and hotel operators.

Strategically, I think it's good for them, Macau obviously being part of the whole Greater China concept, their peer bank, Bank of China, being a significant player in that market, and obviously the growth that's coming out of there, said Warren Blight, banking analyst at Fox, Pitt-Kelton.

ICBC is buying 10 percent of the bank from director Patrick Huen, who will retain a 20 percent stake, and the 70 percent in the bank held by casino tycoon Stanley Ho's conglomerate, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM).

Macau, a former Portuguese colony about an hour's ferry ride from Hong Kong, has boomed since Ho's four-decades-long gaming monopoly lapsed in 2002.

This week, the Las Vegas Sands opened the Venetian Macao, the world's biggest casino, as part of a $24 billion bid by more than a dozen casino, hotel and retail operators to build a Las Vegas-style neon alley along a stretch of reclaimed land called the Cotai Strip.

Seng Heng Bank, the Chinese territory's third-largest lender, had total assets of 25.39 billion patacas at the end of 2006.

The deal values Seng Heng at about 3.25 times 2006 book value. By comparison, mid-tier Hong Kong lender Bank of East Asia trades at about 2.5 times book.

Macau's banking sector came under the spotlight when another lender, Banco Delta Asia, was accused by the United States of laundering illicit funds for communist North Korea. Some $20 million in funds that had been frozen for nearly two years amid a diplomatic wrangle were released in June.

ICBC raised US$21.9 billion last year in the world's largest initial public offering. e advised STDM, while Goldman Sachs advised ICBC.

(US$=8.037 patacas)