Tables turning at Macau casinos

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:51pm

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Gaming revenue in Macau edged up 1.5 per cent in July, beating some predictions of a downturn on a year-on-year basis. But the growth is still the slowest since the global financial crisis in 2008-09.

Gaming revenue last year in the former Portuguese colony totalled 268 billion patacas, making it the world's largest gambling hub. Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal.

Mainlanders made up 60 per cent of the tourists to the city and have contributed the lion's share to the booming betting industry over the past couple of years.

But the bettors may become more careful with their money now, as the mainland economy slows. Industry analysts are watching to see whether Beijing will stimulate the economy in the second half of this year.

'There are a lot of factors in play that resulted in July's low growth,' said Grant Govertsen, lead analyst at Macau-based Union Gaming Research.

Among them, he said, were last year's relatively high base, one less weekend this July compared with last year, and unfavourable weather in the form of a serious typhoon.

July gambling revenue was 24.58 billion patacas compared with 24.21 billion patacas a year ago, and 23.3 billion patacas in June this year, according to the city's Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau.

So far this year, accumulated gross gaming revenue has reached 173.3 billion patacas, a 16.8 per cent increase over the first seven months of 2011.

'For the balance of the year, I would expect growth rates to largely be in the single-digit range, with the exception of September, which I think will reach back into the double digits,' Govertsen said.

Wells Fargo analysts said in a research note this week that revenue near the end of July may have been hurt by Typhoon Vicente, one of the worst storms to hit Hong Kong and Macau in more than a decade, and predicted July revenue could be flat or down from a year earlier.

Deutsche Bank also earlier forecast that the July revenue would likely contract.

Fitch Ratings recently revised its 2012 Macau industry revenue growth forecast to 10 to 12 per cent from 15 per cent, the second downward revision in the past two months.

Govertsen said that for the full year he expected revenue to grow 'into the teens'. He added that Macau was still seeing significant year-on-year growth in the mass market gaming segment - with revenues up 30 per cent in the second quarter - though the VIP segment was slowing.

Two-thirds of Macau's gaming revenues are from high rollers, or VIPs. One mainland-based analyst said that in July the VIP business contracted. 'The mass market, on the other hand, is going to grow steadily,' he said.

Shares in Sands China, the Asian unit of Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas firm, rose 2.2 per cent to HK$23.45 yesterday. Wynn Macau climbed 4.35 per cent and Galaxy Entertainment was up 1.82 per cent, outpacing a flat benchmark Hang Seng Index.