Help wanted as 15,000 jobs go begging in Macau's gaming trade

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am

As the September opening of Wynn Macau nears, the casino giant is not alone in facing a huge staff shortage.


With four big new players - Wynn, Galaxy, Grand Lisboa and Grand Waldo - opening this year and next, 15,000 extra staff will be needed for the new casinos and hotels over the next two years.


This is higher than the number on the unemployed register, which totals 10,000 residents, and at 3.9 per cent of the population is the lowest since 1997. But the bulk of the jobless are middle-aged and untrained, due to a historic tendency for Macau youngsters to go straight into the gaming industry from school.


Once open, the 600-room Wynn resort and casino complex needs 4,000 staff, but so far, industry watchers say, it has only been able to find half that, with vacancies for all grades of gaming, hotel and waiting staff.


But by all accounts Wynn is doing better than its rivals, with its prestigious hotel proving a draw.


With less than six months to opening, the situation is growing more serious by the day. To make matters worse, a battle to recruit croupiers has broken out.


Sands, Galaxy, Wynn and Lisboa are paying croupiers 12,000 to 14,000 patacas per month but already people are switching jobs for an extra 500 patacas a month.


'It's like Hong Kong was in 1995,' complains one exasperated hotelier.


High turnover is not just a problem at lower levels. Musical chairs are going on higher up, with several top management figures at Sands, the first of the new wave of casinos to open, having already moved on.


No underwater gambling


One thing is for sure: when the Hyatt Regency on Taipa closes in June, its 300 or so staff will be snapped up.


Confirmation that Melbourne-based hotel operator Crown will occupy the site next door has finally scotched speculation that Park Hyatt might build there.


Crown, part of James Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd (PBL), said in 2004 it would invest about US$163 million in its Macau joint venture with Melco International Development, which is run by Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, a son of Stanley Ho Hung-sun.


Now the joint venture is scaling back plans for the bigger of its two proposed Macau casinos, the City of Dreams. And an ambitious underwater casino had been scrapped due to costs, PBL Gaming chief executive Rowen Craigie said recently.


The $8 billion City of Dreams project - which includes three hotels with 2,000 rooms - will now only have an underwater feature. The partners are understood to want to delay the opening of their smaller, $1.5 billion high-roller casino, Crown Macau, from September to March next year so it and the integrated six-star Crown hotel can open together.


To be allowed to run casinos in Macau, the joint venture was granted a sub-concession by Stanley Ho's Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM), which gave SJM day-to-day control of the casinos.


But now PBL says it and Melco have renegotiated the agreement with SJM to allow them to run the casinos, although they will still need approval from Macau's Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau.


Mr Craigie has said that several Crown executives would come to Macau to run the casino, if the agreement gains approval.


Mr Packer, a son of the late tycoon Kerry Packer, sees Macau as his stepping stone to building the Melco partnership into the world's biggest Asian gaming operator.


Tight quotas


But unless the labour shortage is addressed, they too will be starved of staff. Macau has 21 new hotels due to open in the next five years, half of them five-star.


It should be simple: just allow more overseas workers in. But Macau controls foreign labour quotas tightly. Even if overseas staff can be recruited, many will need at least six months' training.


And they come at a price. Macau has few employment agencies licensed to bring in foreign workers and for each recruit, employers are charged 300 patacas per month for the duration of the contract.