Macau gaming revenues fall 87.8% in February following casino closures

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Howard Stutz has over 30 years of experience reporting on the gaming industry.

Macau’s casino industry experienced an 87.8% decline in gaming revenue during February as the gaming market with grappled with travel restrictions and a two-week shutdown brought about by the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

The Gaming Inspection & Coordination Bureau said Sunday casinos collected $386.5 million in gaming revenue in February, a historic decline to a sub-billion-dollar monthly figure not seen since the early 2000s.

Following January’s 11.3% gaming revenue decline, Macau is down 49% for the first two months of 2020. Macau gaming revenues fell 3.4% in 2019 to $36.5 billion, marking the region’s first gaming revenue decrease since 2016.

According to Seeking Alpha, the declines will continue. The website said it estimates gaming revenue will be off in Macau anywhere between 70% to 85% during March. Some analysts don’t expect customer traffic to return to normal levels until the fourth quarter.

“Although visitation has bottomed and casinos should gradually reopen, the continued weakness in gross gaming revenue on visa/travel restrictions should continue to affect profits,” said Jefferies gaming analyst Andrew Lee, who is based in Hong Kong.

Stifel Financial gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski said Sunday investors aren’t concerned about March since the Macau recovery will take months.

“With the government keeping limitations on individual and group visas into the market and transportation options remaining impaired we believe the Macau market could take four to six months to start stabilizing and showing improvement,” Wieczynski said. “It’s still anybody’s guess as to what the next few months of gross gaming revenue will look like.”

Macau’s government ordered the suspension of casino operations on Feb. 5 for 15 days after two local residents, both casino employees, were confirmed to have the virus. Only a handful of confirmed cases were diagnosed in Macau.

Larger resorts still operated hotels and restaurants for the few remaining guests.

U.S. based casino operators Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Resorts, which operate properties in Macau, told the investment community the companies endured costs during the shutdown.

Wynn Resorts said it expected a “burn rate” of $2.4 million to $2.6 million a day during the shutdown, primarily from payroll for its 12,200 employees in the Chinese gaming market. MGM Resorts said the closures cost the company $1.5 million a day in operating expenses, also primarily in payroll.

Macau gaming regulators said Sunday only 29 of the 39 active casinos in the city reopened on Feb. 20. Eight additional casinos opened last week and as of Friday, two casinos remained closed.

The casino closure was only the second time the government ordered a shutdown. In 2010, a typhoon forced a 33-hour shutdown of casinos.

Meanwhile, United Kingdom-based H2 Gambling Capital said in a statement the virus spread caused the firm to revise its 2020 forecasts and it now expects the value of the global gambling market to fall 8% this year. The decline would mark just the second drop in more than 20 years.

H2 founder Simon Holliday said the forecast considered eight of the world’s largest gambling markets. The company said the “best case” for the global gaming market would be a decline of 1%.

“COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on China’s gambling market and those of neighboring Macau and Singapore,” Holiday said in a statement. The revised forecasts included Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea.

H2 said other markets could be included in the downgrade.

Macau’s slowdown started in January when the outbreak of coronavirus, now referred to as COVID-19, first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Travel restrictions were imposed just as the country was about to celebrate the lucrative Chinese New Year. All public celebrations of the holiday were canceled.

Las Vegas Sands President Rob Goldstein said in January visitation to the company’s eight Macau properties was down roughly 80% since the Chinese New Year holiday began.

Macau’s government, which oversees the world’s largest gaming market, makes over 80% of its revenues from casinos.