All In

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 July, 2009, 12:00am

Local gamblers do poorly on 'comps' compared to Vegas

As a general rule, the tougher the market is, the harder casinos must work to lure players. And while the market in Macau is less than stellar at the moment, things in Las Vegas are outright dire.

Consider the case of the Hamms, an American couple living in northwestern Washington state who stayed at MGM Mirage's Bellagio hotel about two years ago and gambled about US$200 over the course of a three-day holiday.

A few months ago, Mr Hamm was pleasantly surprised to open his mailbox and find an offer from the Bellagio for a free three-night stay plus US$50 in free gambling credits, as well as vouchers for food and drinks.

'I was amazed, really,' Mr Hamm told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

'Usually you expect to hear from casinos if you gamble a lot of money. We stayed there for three days and really didn't gamble much.'

For casinos in Macau, the situation is nowhere near as bad as it is in Vegas. Or, from a punter's perspective, it's nowhere near as good. Cash rebates, discounts and 'comps' or complimentary amenities - free hotel rooms, meals, show tickets and transport - have long been a mainstay of casino marketing.

But in Macau, discounts and comps have traditionally been reserved for much bigger players than in Vegas, and that remains true today (gambling US$200 in a major Macau casino generally won't get you anything more than a free glass of tea).

But there are signs that things are changing - slowly - as competition for the more lucrative mass-market cash players heats up in the enclave.

Galaxy Entertainment's StarWorld casino hotel this week launched a series of promotions in an effort to capture more mid-to-premium mass-market baccarat players. Loyalty programme players with an initial cash buy-in of HK$10,000 can get a cash rebate of 1 per cent, which rises to a rebate of 1.25 per cent on HK$50,000 in front money plus a free night's hotel stay.

StarWorld has run similar deals in the past, but this is the most assertive to date.

Of course, most of the smaller casinos in Macau will offer discounts of up to 1 per cent on as little as HK$1,000 on VIP chip wagers, but these programmes are essentially VIP programmes because they involve rolling chips and may eventually lead to credit-driven play.

Discounts and comps targeting the mid-range of the cash-only mass market are relatively newer. But with several new casinos opening this year in a market that is stagnant at best, analysts including Macquarie's Gary Pinge see competitive pressure building to roll out more of these kind of incentives.

'With intensifying competition in the mass-market space, [operators] are increasingly starting to introduce cash comps in order to offer a tangible incentive for patrons to play at their casinos,' he wrote last month in a research note.

Stanley Ho shows Jockey Club up on soccer betting

Stanley Ho Hung-sun's monopoly sports-betting firm, Macau SLOT, may be losing out to the Hong Kong Jockey Club when it comes to soccer-betting volumes. But at least Mr Ho's firm isn't as greedy as the Jockey Club.

Bookmakers make money by raking the pot - taking a percentage of all wagers off the top of the pile and using the remaining funds to pay out winning bets. The bigger the rake, the fatter the revenue margin on betting volume - but the thinner its return to punters.

All-in couldn't help but notice that Macau SLOT raked 6.8 per cent of its 4.5 billion patacas in soccer wagers last year. That's far less greedy than the Jockey Club's 18 per cent take-out ratio on its much larger HK$34.4 billion in total soccer wagering volumes in the year to last July (the most recent figures available).

Not that the punters appear to mind.