Macau to open bidding for six casino licences

Macau will start taking bids for six gaming licences on Friday as the Chinese casino hub strives for recovery following Beijing’s anti-corruption drive and a Covid-induced economic slump.

The former Portuguese colony is the only territory in China where casinos are permitted, and issues just six operating concessions for a multibillion-dollar industry that until recently was bigger than Las Vegas.

Macau, which adheres to China’s strict zero-Covid strategy, is in the middle of easing a coronavirus lockdown which earlier this month temporarily closed most businesses — including casinos, which had resisted shutdowns for more than two years.

Gaming revenue plunged 46 percent in the first six months of this year, according to Bloomberg.

For decades Macau’s gaming industry was run as a monopoly by casino magnate Stanley Ho, but in 2002 more operators were brought in and issued 20-year concessions as part of a liberalisation effort.

But in January authorities slashed the concession period of gaming licenses from 20 years to 10 and unveiled regulations seeking to increase local ownership and government supervision.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign that has seen increased scrutiny of the high-rollers and officials who travel to gamble in Macau, where cases of money laundering are common.

Former Macau junket boss Alvin Chau is facing decades in prison after he was arrested last year on charges of fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.

Macau’s casino giants welcomed the new rules earlier this year, but analysts have warned recovery may still be a way off.

Bids for the six licences will be judged on factors such as the ability to court foreign tourists, prior business experience and proposals to prevent illegal activity, authorities said Thursday.

Those applying must submit their proposal along with a minimum deposit of 10 million patacas ($1.2 million).

The bidding period will end on September 14, they added. — Agence France-Presse