Reports that China is having a “crackdown” on foreign casinos that try to set up marketing operations in mainland China is not a departure from the country’s existing policy, said a note from Credit Suisse AG in Hong Kong on Friday.
There have been signs for several months that high stakes Chinese gamblers have been driven offshore because of China’s anti-corruption crackdown and because of a tightening of exit visa rules for rich citizens interested to visit Macau to gamble.
According to a Friday report by Bloomberg News, the Chinese authorities are to target enforcement against casino operators from neighbouring countries that have set up offices in China “to attract and recruit Chinese citizens” to gamble abroad, said Hua Jingfeng, a deputy director at China’s Ministry of Public Security, at a briefing held in Beijing that day.
But Credit Suisse analysts Kenneth Fong and Isis Wong said direct marketing of casino services to mainland Chinese citizens is already forbidden.
“Although this is nothing new, the reiteration of this anti-gambling [policy] by the official means we see little room near-term for China to relax visa trends to Macau,” said the Credit Suisse team.
Reuters news agency reported as long ago as October 2011 that high net worth Chinese gamblers – that mostly play on credit in casinos, rather than using their own cash – are recruited not by mass consumer channels such as direct mailing or solicitation, but via a network of low-key sub-agents within the country. It is the job of such sub-agents not only to recruit the players but also to know the background to their personal and professional lives to ensure they are good for the money advanced to them, added the report.
Credit Suisse said Friday’s announcement from Beijing was more likely to be a negative for Macau casinos, which have turned more toward so-called “premium mass” players – ones that bet high but in cash – for their gaming revenue in the wake of the fall-off in VIP play.
VIP revenue in Macau slipped 29 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter 2014.
Mr Fong and Ms Wong wrote: “The casino normally sends premium mass hosts to China to ‘visit’ the players and get to know their friends (potential new players). So, by having a much stronger control over the casino representative office in China means this will make their job more difficult to find new players. A slower VIP revenue and [a] harder job [for] premium mass host to source new players means the [Macau] premium mass segment may take longer to recover.”
Sheldon Adelson, chairman of casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp, said at an event on Wednesday in Macau that the anti-graft push in mainland China is also impacting Macau’s premium mass table games segment.
The Credit Suisse team added on Friday: “For the existing players…they already know Macau or the overseas casinos. So, whether they come or not, doesn’t depend on whether there is any representative office in China. In fact, they are coming less because of 1) the anti-corruption campaign which [means] they choose to lay low; and 2) [the] transit visa restriction now, which is unlikely to be improved in 2015.”
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