Macau casinos down double-digits in virus-plagued January


macau-casino-january-gaming-revenue-coronavirus-masksMacau’s casino gaming revenue started 2019 off on a downer note, suffering a double-digit year-on-year decline, while local authorities now want gamblers to wear virus-protecting masks.

Figures released Saturday by Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau show local casinos generated revenue of MOP22.1b (US$2.76b) in January, an 11.3% decline from the same month last year. Last month’s total is also below December 2019’s MOP22.84b, which was down 13.7% year-on-year.

December’s negative growth was attributed in part due to the mid-month visit of China’s President Xi Jinping and the simultaneous restrictions China imposed on mainland residents visiting Macau. January’s numbers suffered from China’s coronavirus crisis, which severely depressed travel to Macau during the traditionally busy Lunar New Year celebration.

Speaking on the company’s recent Q4 earnings call, Las Vegas Sands President Rob Goldstein said his group’s Macau casinos had performed strongly through the first 21 days of January, and that “if this call had been a week or two ago, it would be a whole different story.”

With some reports estimating that most Macau’s casinos were seeing 80% declines following the imposition of new travel restrictions, the local government instructed operators to require their casino croupiers to wear medical masks starting last week. Casinos were also required to screen visitors both entering and exiting their properties for signs of elevated body temperature.

On Sunday, the authorities went one step further by requiring all gamblers visiting Macau casinos to also wear masks. Macau casinos must also deny entry to any visitor who admits traveling to the Chinese province of Hubei in the past two weeks.

With the casinos already operating at 20% capacity, Fitch Ratings analysts are projecting the virus could knock up to $2b off the 2020 earnings of Macau operators. And that’s assuming the spread of the virus doesn’t accelerate beyond its current rate.

Last week, a group representing Macau casino workers petitioned the government to completely close all casinos for a minimum of 14 days to ensure the safety of casino staff and minimize further spread of the virus. The letter claimed some gamblers “showed a lack of sanitary awareness, some of whom even spit on the floor, which produces a lot of bacteria.” The letter also questioned why casinos were allowed to remain open while banks, schools and other public services were allowed to close.