At midnight China Standard Time (CST) Thursday, Macau’s gaming properties will reopen following a 15-day layoff because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But it won’t be business as usual in the world’s largest casino center.
On Tuesday, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) unveiled a host of regulations aimed at stemming the spread of the respiratory illness that has claimed nearly 2,000 lives on mainland China. Gaming properties on the peninsula were shuttered on Feb. 4 when the tenth documented case of COVID-19 there was confirmed. That number has remained the same since then.
When the outbreak was in its nascent stages, the guests at Macau gaming venues were required to pass through screening machines, while staff, including table game dealers, wore surgical masks. Those measures and more will be implemented when the casinos reopen this week.
Not only is the Macau Health Bureau telling operators to ratchet up cleaning schedules, but DICJ is allowing operators to open just half their tables, a strategy operators appear fine with.
It is wise to open a little bit, even if business is slow. The government wants us to open because it signals a sign of stability for Macau,” said an unidentified gaming industry executive in an interview with Reuters.
The scope of the new health precautions extends beyond the half capacity for table games. DICJ is mandating that there be an empty seat in between gamblers, meaning maximum capacity for baccarat, blackjack, pai gow and other tables will be capped at four. Dealers will be required to be stationed 3.3 feet away from players. The empty seat policy is also applicable to slot machines.
Other protocols are being implemented that could make for a sluggish restart for Macau’s premier industry. Gaming employees that don’t live on the peninsula are subject to a 14-days quarantine, which could leave operators short-handed through the end of this month.
Additionally, no visitors from Hubei province – the epicenter of the novel coronavirus – will be allowed to enter Macau.
Authorities in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) may not have to worry about travelers from Hubei attempting to enter, because 780 million citizens on mainland China, more than 50 percent of the population, are subject to strict travel restrictions.
Those travel controls have some analysts forecasting a gross gaming revenue (GGR) decline in Macau of 80 percent this month, and 50 percent in March, while noting it’ll take weeks for the gaming business there to resemble its pre-virus form.
Have to Start Somewhere
Between Jan. 27 and Feb. 17, visits to the SAR plunged 92.5 percent. But data indicates the number increased over the past two days. Analysts view even incremental improvement as a positive for Macau’s gaming-dependent economy.
Industry executives and local business owners are saying it could be three or months before the peninsula’s travel and leisure sector fully recovers.
Assuming the prognostication proves accurate, it would jibe with expectations heading into 2020 stating that Macau is positioned for a second half rebound this year.