China’s anti-corruption crackdown is taking a toll on Macao casinos. That could mean more tough times are ahead for the gambling haven, despite the fact that new casinos are opening this year.
However, although high rollers could be in for a hard time, that doesn’t mean that gaming investors necessarily will be as well, or that China tourism is set to decline. In fact, Club Med’s new Chinese owners are planning on targeting tourists with new attractions on the mainland.
It’s no secret that VIP gamblers have left the tables in Macao. President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on what he has called “tigers and flies” has included measures against money laundering that has hit junket operators hard. In fact, Hong Kong officials launched the New Year with a freeze in assets of Cheung Chi-tai, a major player among casino junket operators.
In addition, Beijing has repeatedly warned the city—the only place in China where gambling is legal—that it must diversify and seek other sources of revenue that do not rely solely on gambling.
That’s going to be a tough job, since taxes on gaming provide more than 66% of the Macao government’s income. But Macao may have no choice, since the city found gambling proceeds down by 2.6% in 2014 to 351.5 billion patacas ($44 billion). Statistics from Macao’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau indicated that, in December alone, proceeds fell by a record 30.4%. That follows on the heels of a drop in October proceeds of 23.2%, which is the largest decrease on record since 2005, when statistics were first made public.
The corruption crackdown isn’t the only thing to hit Macao’s economy. Tighter credit in China, a smoking ban that took effect in November and visa restrictions have also taken a toll, and analysts’ outlook for Macao during at least the first half of 2015 is gloomy. In fact, Fitch Ratings has predicted that gaming revenue in Macao will fall by 4%, hit mostly by that tough first half. Singapore is likely to share Macao’s pain as well, it said, as will other VIP-dependent markets in the Asia-Pacific region.
That doesn’t mean that gaming is on its way out, however—far from it. New casinos scheduled to open in Macao later in the year are only one indication that the APAC region isn’t ready to stop chasing the roll of the dice. And while the competition will likely lower profits in Macao, Chinese property developers have turned to Australia, where Fitch says casinos will likely increase gaming revenue by 4%. Investment, it said, is significant in Crown’s new Sydney Precinct and new hotel in Perth.
But the big kahuna for the developers could be in Queen’s Wharf precinct in Brisbane. Fitch analysts said that “all eyes will be on the successful bidder to develop Queen’s Wharf precinct …, which the Queensland government plans to announce in early 2015. Both Crown and Echo have entered into partnerships with Chinese property developers to bid for integrated resorts.”
Still, gambling isn’t the only egg in China’s tourism basket. Chinese conglomerate Fosun, the new owner of Club Med, plans to target China’s growing affluent population with the lure of new all-inclusive resorts on the mainland. Currently Club Med has just three facilities there: a ski resort in northern China, a new island beach resort near Macau and a Karst mountain resort near Guilin. But that’s definitely not enough for Fosun, which intends to make China Club Med’s second largest market.
Tourism throughout the APAC regions is on the rise, and according to Alex Bumazhny, director, gaming, lodging and leisure at Fitch, mass-market tourism in China “remains pretty strong,” so that even Macao can benefit. The measures that have weighed so heavily on VIP gambling haven’t really had an impact on the non-high-rollers, and “we expect [tourism] to continue to improve as infrastructure will improve.”
Both Macao and the surrounding area, Bumazhny said, will benefit from several projects, among them a bridge from Hong Kong to Macao that “will make access to Macao much easier and quicker.” Others include a light rail line that will connect all Macao’s casinos and the development of Hengqin Island across from Macao, where developers are “building universities that will pull the general public and mass market towards Macao. Long term, we see Macao as pretty healthy as far as tourism inflows; gaming is where the headwind is in 2015.”
Fitch has also been more sanguine about the APAC gaming market overall, issuing a stable rating “despite lower VIP volumes” and saying that, while the “weakness … will persist through 1H15,” the “negative trends [will] bottom out and new projects open by 2H15.”
Some of the projects in the region that will fuel new growth, in addition to Australian hotels and casinos, are “expansion and refurbishment initiatives” at “Resorts World Genting (RWG), the sole casino license holder in Malaysia, [which] appears to be shielded from China.” Those initiatives are expected to “deliver long-term foot traffic, and yield growth potential that should support the EBITDA margin at around 40%.”
Then there are openings in the Philippines City of Dreams Manila and Resorts World Bayshore in the next two years, along with expansions of Resorts World Manila and Solaire Manila. In addition, “[t]he Genting group is investing in a USD2.2bn Jeju (South Korea) project, which the group will develop as a joint venture with Anhui-based property developer Landing International Development Limited. This casino is likely to open by 2017.:
New casino development in Japan, on the other hand, is “likely to be delayed” because of the Japanese election in December, with “the construction of two casinos in Japan in time for the 2020 Olympics is unlikely.”