Does poker have a future in Macau?

TAGs: baccarat, Casino Grand Lisboa, city of dreams, Macau, PokerStars

macau-poker-futureThe table games cap imposed by authorities in Macau was intended to apply some moderate restraint to the special administrative region’s explosive gambling growth over the past decade, but it may have one unintended consequence: the elimination of Macau’s live poker rooms. Concerns are mounting that the table cap, in conjunction with the apparent slowdown of the overall market – some analysts expect growth of ‘only’ 20% this year after growing 42% in 2011 and 58% in 2010 – will put pressure on operators to maximize revenue from their gaming floors, which some observers believe could leave poker out in the cold.

Without question, the number one game in Macau is baccarat, which accounts for 91.7% of gross gaming revenue. What’s more, the potential yield from these tables is far above what the house could expect from raking poker pots. This fiscal discrepancy reportedly forced the hand of Melco Crown Entertainment into shutting down the City of Dreams casino’s Hard Rock Poker Lounge in June 2011. As a source told Poker Portal Asia, poker “just doesn’t come close” to baccarat’s revenue potential, and that “eventually poker may be non-existent in Macau in the next few years.”

Rumors are swirling that the poker room in SJM’s Casino Grand Lisboa (where the PokerStars Macau Millions and Asian Pacific Poker Tour Macau Main Event tourneys are held) may soon face the same fate as the Hard Rock. If the Grand Lisboa room closed, that would leave just the Wynn Macau, the Venetian and StarWorld’s Poker King Club open to poker players crossing their thresholds. The only option after that would be electronic poker tables, which is a bit like saying you’ll never have sex again, but you can still have a wank now and then. What fun…

There are two possible outs for Macau’s despairing poker players. The first is that the Macau authorities may be willing to show a little flexibility regarding the 5,500 table cap, as suggested by recent reports involving the Sands Cotai Central project. The other hope is that poker is granted an exemption from the table game cap. As Danny McDonagh, PokerStars Director of Live Operations in Asia-Pacific, reminded PokerPortal.Asia, “in Melbourne’s Crown Casino and even Sydney, [poker is] exempted from the table cap. Three years ago, Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau hadn’t even seen poker so it will probably need more time to review.” Just don’t take too long, guys…


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