Gaming revenue at Macau’s casinos in November fell 8.5 percent year on year to $2.8 billion, as headwinds continue to buffet the world’s biggest gambling hub. It’s the sharpest fall in a year that has already seen seven months of year-on-year slumps. Revenue is down 2.4 percent for the year to date.
A slowing Chinese economy, weakened yuan, and the ongoing trade war between China and the US have all combined to dampen the financial outlook. The recent civil unrest in nearby Hong Kong may also have played a role in stymieing visitation to the region.
A recent attack by Chinese State Media on Macau’s biggest junket operator, Suncity, has had a negative effect on the sector’s VIP segment.
Will Xi Turn Up?
Meanwhile, the forthcoming 20th anniversary of the special administrative region’s (SAR) secession from Portugal has led mainland officials to implement tighter visa policies on visitors to Macau. An influx of Chinese dignitaries and politicians is expected to descend on the SAR in the coming weeks, and officials are preparing the ground.
From November 22 to December 20, tourists entering Macau through the individual visitor scheme or through a packaged tour visa will only be permitted to visit once during the period.
There has also been speculation that President Xi Jinping himself could be planning a visit, which could result in high rollers staying away. But equally, Xi could choose to swerve the region because of the Hong Kong protests.
Despite the sooner-than-expected visa restrictions, the sector beat analysts’ expectations. According to Bloomberg, the median prediction was that growth would decline by ten percent.
Analysts cautioned against comparing 2019 with 2018 – a bumper year for the casino sector, filled with double-digit growth. They expect December to be down 10 percent year on year, with a slightly brighter outlook predicted for 2020, with a 3 percent increase across the year.
On Sunday, Macau appointed a new Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lei Wai Nong, who will oversee the gaming industry as it enters a crucial re-licensing process. Lei is part of a new lineup of government officials chosen by the SAR’s new chief executive, the pro-Beijing Ho Iat Seng.
“Many interests are involved in the gaming sector,” Lei told a press conference Sunday, as reported by GGRAsia. “I would like to emphasize that serving the public interest, the people’s interest, is the [government’s] priority” in terms of gaming policy.
“We have to fully assess the existing gaming concession contracts, in place for almost 20 years,” Lei added. “Based on such assessment, we will eventually introduce some changes [and] solve some shortcomings [in the licensing process]” he added.
The new government will be sworn in on December 20.