Macau casino revenues surge 62pc in quarter

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2008, 12:00am

Income outstrips Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined

Macau gaming revenues surged 62 per cent in the first quarter as casinos in the city hauled in more winnings than Las Vegas Strip and Atlantic City combined.

Benefiting from frenzied expansion, the territory took in 29.82 billion patacas in the first three months of the year, representing faster growth than the previous quarter's 46 per cent increase.

Macau overtook the Las Vegas Strip in 2006 to become the world's largest casino market. Macau casinos generated more than double the gaming revenues on the Las Vegas Strip during the first two months of the year, official figures from both jurisdictions show.

VIP baccarat once again drove the expansion, with casino winnings from high rollers soaring 69.7 per cent to 20.8 billion patacas, according to data released yesterday by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau. In Macau, a single hand of baccarat can involve a bet of tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars.

In the year to March, Macau's VIP revenue totalled 64.561 billion patacas, or US$8.165 billion, equivalent to Cambodia's gross domestic product. Total estimated sales of VIP gambling chips during the 12-month period were well above HK$2 trillion.

'Don't tell Macau there's a global slowdown,' Citigroup analyst Anil Daswani wrote last week in a research note. 'In spite of the completion of mass-market-focused projects such as the Venetian, Macau remains a mecca for high rollers.'

VIP baccarat accounted for 73 per cent of all casino revenues, up from 67 per cent a year ago. But the high-volume, low-margin business from high rollers adds to the margin pressures on casino operators, who pay a commission equivalent of 40 to 50 per cent of their gaming revenues to the junket agents who bring in the VIP players, lend them gambling chips and collect their debts.

Revenue from mass market or public table games rose 35.6 per cent to 7.66 billion patacas during the quarter. The top five games by revenue were baccarat, cussec (sic bo), blackjack, stud poker and roulette. Mass market table gaming accounted for 25.7 per cent of casino revenues.

Casino winnings from slot machines surged 80 per cent from a low base to 1.35 billion patacas, mainly driven by the rollout of new machines.

Supply continued to drive demand. Four large-scale resort hotels - Crown, Venetian, MGM Grand and Ponte 16 - opened during the year to March at a combined investment of US$4.6 billion and added more than 4,200 hotel rooms in the city.

Those openings coupled with a major expansion of the gaming floor at the Wynn in December increased Macau's supply of gaming tables 45 per cent to 4,311. The number of slot machines rose 84 per cent to 13,552 units.

Macau's casinos raked in US$2.4 billion in the first two months of this year. That compares with US$1.15 billion on the Las Vegas Strip and US$739 million in Atlantic City - or a combined total of US$1.88 billion for the twin capitals of gaming in the United States. The US state of Nevada, home to Las Vegas, has yet to release data from March.

Moreover, Macau's 62 per cent growth in casino winnings is in sharp contrast to declining revenues in both US cities. Las Vegas Strip winnings fell 3 per cent in February and 1.3 per cent in January, while Atlantic City's revenues declined 6.4 per cent in the first three months.

US-based Las Vegas Sands Corp and Wynn Resorts both rely on their Macau properties for the majority of their profit and sales.