As I write this column, Galaxy Entertainment is opening two new casinos in Macau—Galaxy Macau Phase 2 and Broadway Macau. They are the leading edge of the next wave of new integrated resort development for the Chinese enclave, and offer easily accessible retail, restaurants, theaters and other amenities that were either de-emphasized or vacant in the casino-centric Macau developments of the past.
The reason for the inclusion of more amenities into the resort offering mix is simple—Galaxy Gaming, along with a great many other Macau operators, is looking to capture a larger share of the mass premium and mass market wagering business, especially as visitation from the high-roller Chinese gambler that used to define this market continues to lag. Indeed, recent reports from both Union Gaming Research and Nomura Securities show that Macau is in a state of serious flux, with May combined gross gaming revenue down 37 percent year over year. VIP gaming win cratered 42.8 percent over the same time period. This followed April gross gaming revenue figures that declined 38.8 percent over the same period in 2014.
And revenue is not the only thing sinking in Macau of late. Total visitation to the enclave was down 3.4 percent in April, the second consecutive month with a visitation decline. Visitors from mainland China were reportedly down 6.8 percent for the month which, once again, is not a very good sign for a market that relies on the Chinese gambler.
This rather emphatic market downturn stems from a number of causes, all or most of which are China-based and include a slowing economy, tighter immigration and travel restrictions and anti-money laundering measure. But the primary culprit of Macau’s casino woes remains the ongoing anti-corruption campaign in China, which has dried up business in Macau’s lucrative VIP lounges as these wealthy patrons lay low and stay home. As long as this government measure remains in effective, expect Macau casinos to perform well below historic averages.
Of course, as with most issues, there is always a brighter side. To start, despite the year-over-year revenue declines, Macau still generated an astounding $2.5 billion in gross revenue for May alone, far and away more than any other single gaming jurisdiction in the world. The $2.5 billion was also a 6.3 percent improvement over the revenues the properties generated in August. Casino developers also continue to believe in the market’s future, as the Galaxy Gaming opening attest, and many new integrated gaming resort developments are in the pipeline for the coming years. The movement toward the mass market properties may also be a net positive for Macau casino operators, as it was for U.S.-based gaming businesses during the 1990s.
All that said, there are still some unsettled economic waters for Macau casinos to navigate over the near term. The latest cloud on the horizon: starting this month, Beijing is reportedly going to finally enforce a nationwide ban on smoking in all public places, forcing people to go outdoors to smoke. Many observers believe other jurisdictions throughout China, including Macau, will likely follow suit. The ultimate impact of this potential smoking ban is uncertain, but it is worth noting that gross gaming revenue at Mocha Clubs—Macau-based convenience gaming outlets—has declined 12 percent to 15 percent since a smoking ban was enacted at the properties last October.
For years, while the rest of the world suffered through gaming doldrums, Macau was a shining beacon of growth and hope. No doubt this light has dimmed of late; here’s hoping new properties will add some much needed oxygen to revive the fire.