Major casinos in Macau have been buzzing over the past few weekends, with a refreshing twist. Residents with shopping vouchers are beginning to fill the malls of late, according to property consultants JLL, while the city awaits the return of gamblers. Thanks to the government’s stimulus handout of 8,000 patacas (US$1,014) in electronic vouchers, the economy is showing some signs of life. The vouchers for eligible residents come in two tranches: 3,000 patacas for May to July, and 5,000 patacas for August to December. The scene is a respite for retailers after the coronavirus pandemic sucked the life out of the glitzy city . It also provides a glimpse of recovery for the government that is trying to diversify its income base, and for the city that recently mourned the passing of famous and colourful businessman Stanley Ho. “Consumption coupons did help. When you go to casino malls, including The Venetian and Galaxy, during the weekend, the footfall is tremendous,” Oliver Tong, head of leasing for Macau at JLL, said of his recent visit. “It felt like going back to November or December last year, when there were a lot of people. But these were [now] all locals.” Retail sales from May onwards should be much better than April, since the vouchers boosted consumption and helped fill the malls, Tong added. As a result, investors can hopefully look beyond recent terrible news on Macau’s economic activity. Visitor arrivals in Macau nosedived 99.7 per cent year on year in April, according to government data. Retail sales plunged 45.1 per cent in the first quarter to US$1.41 billion, while gross gaming revenues crashed 93.2 per cent to 1.76 billion patacas in May. Macau casinos report their worst April on record as gross gambling revenue To boost sales, casino operators also introduced other promotions, such as discounts at restaurants and free parking for up to five hours at their malls. For example, holders of Macau identity cards can enjoy a 30 per cent discount at 15 participating restaurants in Sands China’s properties, such as Four Seasons, The Parisian, The Venetian and Sands Cotai Central until June 30, according to its website. Macau’s biggest gaming operators have also offered rent-free periods of up to three months to their tenants to alleviate their financial burden. Sands China waived rents of all tenants in February. In March and April, the group offered comprehensive rent reduction for SMEs. The average rent reduction for the 850 tenants was up to 75 per cent. Galaxy Entertainment waived the fixed rental fees of all eligible tenants from February to April. For shopping centres in Macau, monthly rental can be less than HK$100 (US$12.90) per square foot, according to market sources. Major sites like The Venetian and Galaxy average about HK$300 to HK$500 per square foot, while luxury malls like Wynn and Four Seasons can fetch over HK$1,000 per square foot, on par with top malls in Hong Kong. Macau’s casino operators are also more willing to lower rent for tenants that can offer new experience to shoppers, compared to landlords in Hong Kong, according to JLL. That is because their main income generator is from gambling instead of mall leases, he added. Galaxy Macau, a key unit of the Galaxy Entertainment Group, had HK$151 million of revenue from its shopping centre in the first quarter, according to a Hong Kong stock exchange filing. That amounted to just 4.3 per cent of the group total of HK$3.52 billion. At Link Reit, for example, its retail revenue of HK$7.22 billion represented more than two-thirds of the group’s total of HK$10.72 billion for the year ended March 31, according to its annual results. Pansy Ho steps into the spotlight as de facto head and uniter of the sprawling clan MGM in late February offered to extend the rent-free period for retail tenants to help them ride out the crisis. The company, which counts Godiva, Rolex and Swarovski among its tenants, is “ready to continue with our effort in launching initiatives to help them recover from the epidemic in the long run”, chief executive Grant Bowie said. Melco Resorts & Entertainment and SJM Holdings did not respond to requests for comment. JLL’s Tong, who is also head of retail for Hong Kong, believes Macau landlords could possibly extend the rent concession into May. But the extent of it is likely to depend on the impact on sales on a case-by-case basis. Casino operators in Macau may have to wait longer for a bounce in gambling. They continued to suffer even after they reopened their doors following a 15-day shutdown in February aimed at curbing the contagion. While operations have restarted, baccarat and roulette tables remain nearly empty, and casinos are said to be losing more than US$1 million each a day.