GGRAsia has learned that shops in Macau have started to introduce China UnionPay Co Ltd bank card payment terminals that require holders of China-issued cards to submit an identity document for scanning before their purchase can be confirmed.
The measure was one of several announced in December – at a closed-doors seminar for representatives from banks in Macau – by the Monetary Authority of Macao. Shortly afterwards, the authority publicly stated that a new real-time monitoring system would be “implemented on high-risk merchants near casinos, most of which are jewellery and watches merchants” in an initial phase of heightened scrutiny.
Deutsche Bank AG had said in a note the same week that the “long-held common practice” in Macau of gamblers using local watch and jewellery shops to access cash via UnionPay bank cards “may be at risk”, under the new regulatory environment. Detail of the measures was outlined in a note issued at the time by Daiwa Securities Group Inc.
On Tuesday a staff member of a local pawnshop told GGRAsia: “We understand this requirement [of installing ID-capturing UnionPay terminals] is what the Monetary Authority [of Macao] ordered.
The person – working at a pawnshop on Macau peninsula, near to several large casinos – added: “Some of the pawnshops nearby have already had ID-reading terminals working.”
Staff at two other pawnshops in the area said they had received instructions from their respective banks that they would need to replace their current UnionPay terminals with the new ID-scanning ones. One said that would happen “soon” and another mentioned “next month”.
Several senior executives of Macau casino operators have said they do not expect the introduction of the new UnionPay payment terminals to have a significant impact on business. Casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) in Macau fell 34 percent year-on-year in Macau in 2015, mostly driven by a decline in VIP gambling, and weighed down – said investment analysts – by factors including China’s anti-graft campaign and the slowing mainland economy. The GGR decline for 2016 is expected to be smaller in percentage terms, several Macau officials have said.
Lui Che Woo, chairman of Macau operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, remarked to media – after the company’s annual general meeting in Hong Kong on Tuesday – that the upgrade of the UnionPay terminals was only one plank of China’s ongoing policy of monitoring UnionPay transactions.
In Monday interviews with Hong Kong television stations Now TV and TVB, Angela Leong On Kei, an executive director of Macau casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd, remarked that the upgrading of the UnionPay terminals “will not impose a big impact on casino earnings in the short term”.
The Monetary Authority of Macao had said in a statement issued on December 11: “China Union Pay card-related transactions will be focused on at the initial stage. The focus will be extended to [bank cards from other issuers such as] Visa and MasterCard at a later stage.”
A Monday note from brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd in Hong Kong stated: “It is likely that the Macau government is reacting to the discrepancy between UnionPay transactions and actual retail sales and is closing down loopholes as part of Macau’s efforts to develop itself into a world-class tourist destination.”
A number of gaming industry analysts have noted that a purchase in Macau made via a UnionPay card – followed rapidly by a return of the goods in exchange for a cash refund – is one of the common ways for some casino gamblers from mainland China to circumvent the country’s strict currency-export controls. Mainland visitors are only allowed to take a daily limit of RMB20,000 (US$3,109) out of China in cash.
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DS Kim, Jeremy An and Christine Wang
Analysts at brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd