Macau to reopen after Covid sinks gaming revenue to record low

Macau was set to remove most coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday after the casino hub’s gaming revenue hit its lowest level on record.

The former Portuguese colony is the only territory in China where casinos are allowed, and its multi-billion-dollar gaming industry was until recently bigger than Las Vegas.

But the sector has taken a kicking in recent years, not only from the coronavirus pandemic but also from a Beijing-directed anti-corruption crackdown.

Gross gaming revenue fell to 398 million patacas (US$49 million) in July, the lowest since records began in 2009, according to the city’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau.

It was slightly better than analyst expectations, according to Bloomberg, but was still down 98 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

Macau’s casinos were ordered to shut down for 10 days in July as the city was placed under three weeks of “static management” modelled after the Covid-19 lockdowns in mainland China.

Public services and commercial activities were suspended, and residents were not allowed to leave home except to take a mandatory Covid test or to buy essentials.

Most restrictions will be removed on Tuesday, with the city having recorded no new infection for nine days, the government announced on Monday.

Official departments will resume full operations, as will commercial activities — on the condition that customers present a negative Covid test from the previous 72 hours.

Though the casinos reopened more than a week ahead of other businesses, getting out of the slump will depend on Macau resuming quarantine-free travel from mainland China — its largest source of revenue.

Under China’s strict zero-Covid policy, Macau will have to stay nearly infection-free to reopen its border.

“You are stuck in this zero-Covid situation where it’s unclear when the government’s actually going to do anything about it,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Vitaly Umansky told Bloomberg.

“The reality is right now there’s nobody in Macau.”

The city recently started the bidding process for six gaming licences after a legal reform to slash concession periods from 20 years to 10, and to boost local ownership and government supervision. (AFP)