The detention of 18 Crown Resorts employees in China sends a chilling effect to Star Entertainment Group chief executive Matt Bekier.
Australian Financial Review reported that Bekier was supposed to attend a series of meeting in Macau last Tuesday but The Star boss decided to skip his scheduled trip to the former Portuguese colony five days after the supposed crackdown in Crown Resorts casino.
Many find it surprising that Bekier skipped his trip to Macau, especially since The Star executive quietly flies to Asia’s premier gaming hub every quarter to visit the company’s joint venture partners, HongKong-based investors Chow Tai Fook and Far East Consortium.
Even a Star spokesman did not offer a single reason why Bekier cancelled his Macau trip.
“We don’t discuss Matt’s travel arrangements,” a spokesman told the news agency.
So what made Bekier jittery that he decided to cancel his trip to Macau?
Just like Crown Resorts, The Star also employs a dozen marketing staff – mostly Chinese – on the mainland and ramped up its promotional activities in recent months.
Bekier, however, is not the only person rattled by the arrest inside Crown Resorts.
The Australian reported that the long shadow that the Crown Resorts incident has reached worried casino investors, who feared that the arrests could have implications for the company’s Australian gaming licenses.
Shares in The Star, which runs casinos in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast were swiped by the steep fall in Crown. Star dropped 11 per cent while Crown shares fell 16 per cent.
“The declines show that fixed-income investors are also becoming concerned about the longer-term implications of the Chinese arrests,” said ADCM Services credit analyst Philip Bayley.
“There is the obvious revenue impact if the Chinese VIP business is lost, but Chinese convictions for Crown employees may also have implications for Crown’s Australian gaming licenses.”
Trying to allay investors’ fear on the financial impact of the arrests, Crown earlier pointed out that only 12 per cent of its revenue was generated from mainland China VIP players.
To fill the hole left by the China crackdown incident, Citi analyst Rohan Sundram predicts that Crown will tap other markets, such as Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and India.
Mr Bayley, however, noted that Crown had an ambitious, multi-billion dollar expansion strategy in Australia that was heavily dependent on a continuing flow of Chinese whales to drive profits and justify the Barangaroo project in Sydney.
Crown was granted a gaming licence for Barangaroo without going to a competitive tender on the condition it would be a $2 billion-plus, VIP-only casino.