Tourists fuel upswing in Macau gambling revenue

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2012, 12:00am


Gambling revenue in Macau last month rose from a year earlier but dropped from January, when the week-long Lunar New Year holiday attracted huge numbers of mainland tourists.

Revenue rose 22.3 per cent year on year in February to 24.3 billion patacas (HK$23.58 billion), but fell from 25 billion patacas in January.

Visitor traffic to the former Portuguese enclave - which has a population of 557,000 - jumped 18.6 per cent in January to 2.46 million, from a year earlier. About 60 per cent of the tourists were from the mainland, according to government statistics.

Macau, the only place in China where gambling is legal, is the world's largest gambling centre. Full-year gambling revenue last year rose 42 per cent to 268 billion patacas, from 2010, largely fuelled by ever-rising numbers of mainland tourists.

Analysts expect Macau's gambling revenue to continue growing in the near future though the pace may slow down.

'The challenge for us all is, can we continue to grow at 40 per cent?' Grant Bowie, chief executive of MGM China, said last week. 'The answer is, probably not' simply because of the already large numbers, he added.

However, the February figure shows the momentum is yet to be lost. Teng Yee Tan, an analyst at CIMB Securities in Hong Kong, said the data were 'exhilarating' and provided assurance of the underlying strength of the sector.

'The expansion rate in February was the lowest since August 2009 as growth normalisation continued to play out,' Tan said in a research note. 'That said, we still see a strong daily gross gambling revenue of 837 million patacas versus January's 808 million patacas,' he said.

In fact, the slower growth in February's gambling revenue was largely expected, and the numbers are surprisingly good for 'a shorter month without the pull factor of public holidays,' he said.

Tan said the industry performance in the first two months was largely within expectations, adding 'mass visitor arrivals and availability of credits to VIPs did not seem to have worn off after a hectic January'.

Separately, a Citi research note last month had said gambling revenue was expected to range from 23.5billion to 24.5 billion patacas.

CIMB Securities, meanwhile, estimates Macau's gambling revenue to grow 18 per cent for this year.

Driven by robust growth of tourist numbers, gambling mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun's family-owned SJM Holdings, Asia's biggest casino company, yesterday reported a 49-per-cent increase in profit for 2011.

Last year, 28 million tourists visited Macau, a 12.2 per cent increase from 2010.