Gaming growth in Macau set to slow down says casino firm

Casino operator and analysts see revenue from gambling likely to be less than 15 per cent this year with Beijing's anti-corruption measures biting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 5:05am

Gaming revenue in Macau will probably increase less than 15 per cent this year, said SJM, Asia's biggest casino operator by revenue.

SJM's chief executive, Ambrose So, said in Beijing: "It will be in the low teens. We have a bigger base, so low teens is still very good."

Gaming revenue in Macau reported year-on-year growth of 11.5 per cent to 27.1 billion patacas last month, supported by a big number of mainland tourists visiting during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The accumulated gross gaming revenue for the first two months of this year reached 53.9 billion patacas, an increase of 9.4 per cent over the same period last year, according to government data.

Aaron Fischer, the head of consumer and gaming research at CLSA, said his forecast growth for the full year was 9 per cent. "We do not expect a fantastic year because of the capacity constraints and also potential concerns over the corruption crackdown may discourage some marginal VIP customers visiting Macau," he said.

The Macau casino industry recorded gross gaming revenue of 304.1 billion patacas last year, but growth slowed to 13.5 per cent from 42 per cent in 2011, amid an economic downturn on the mainland that made gamblers cut spending.

Concern that a political crackdown on the mainland could affect the Macau gaming industry has been rising as the new leadership in Beijing, which will take over the reins of the country in a national conference that started yesterday, is expected to implement more measures against corruption and conspicuous spending.

Government officials and entrepreneurs are believed to be important customers of the high-stakes VIP business, which accounts for about two-thirds of casino revenue in Macau.

A research note issued yesterday by Haitong International Research said that in the short term "potential reports on anti-graft [measures] during the sensitive leadership handover may impose pressure on the VIP gaming market and affect investors' sentiment".

However, Grant Govertsen, the lead analyst at the Macau-based Union Gaming Research, said Beijing's power handover would have a positive effect on Macau.

"We don't believe that there are currently any widespread crackdowns targeted at Macau and remain bullish on Macau's prospects over the coming year," Govertsen said.

He said he expected Macau to see broadly similar growth this month to that seen in the year to date - 10 per cent or more.

A report by Union Gaming Research said that mass market trends had never been stronger, and the VIP market was likely to improve over the coming months as customers became more comfortable with the new leadership in Beijing.

Shares in SJM fell 1.69 per cent to HK$18.56 yesterday, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index edged up 0.1 per cent.