A Macau government official with oversight of the city’s casino sector said on Thursday that the authorities did not plan to change the rules that require such gaming venues to stay open round-the-clock, all year round.
Lei Wai Nong (pictured in a file photo), Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, was responding to a question from a journalist on the sidelines of an event.
The reporter had asked whether the city’s casinos could be allowed to suspend their business if they gave a pledge to protect local workers’ jobs.
An industry consultant recently told GGRAsia that the only rationale now – given many travel restrictions were affecting Macau tourism – for keeping the casinos open, was a “social” one in terms of employment protection, rather than there being a business case for it.
In recent days, the daily flow of visitors has been in the several hundreds, rather than the daily average of 108,000 recorded last year. On Wednesday, the latest available data, the city welcomed 320 visitors.
Macau casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) declined by 79.7 percent in March in year-on-year terms, according to data issued on Wednesday by the city’s casino regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, a body also known under its Portuguese-language acronym as DICJ. In February, Macau casino GGR tallied MOP3.10 billion (US$387 million), an 87.8 percent decline year-on-year.
A 15-day suspension of casino business had been mandated by the government in mid-February under public health control legislation. The actual public concession contracts of the city’s six operators otherwise insist they stay open all the time except with special permission. There is currently a total of 36 operational casinos in the Macau market.
Secretary Lei told the media during his Thursday comments: “The casinos have to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
He added: “The decision [to suspend casino operations] is up to the government. As of now, we don’t have any plan to change the existing regulations.”
The official further stated that the casino GGR decline recorded in March was within the expected range as forecast by the local authorities.
The Macau government halved in March its forecast for the city’s casino GGR in full-year 2020, due to the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the local economy, and the gaming industry in particular. Such forecast for this year now stands at MOP130 billion, down from a projected MOP260 billion, as announced in November.
Job safety, tourist visas
During his Thursday comments, Mr Lei also mentioned that the casino firms would not be eligible to apply for assistance under a MOP10-billion scheme recently announced by the city’s government as part of community-support measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its associated infection of Covid-19.
He added that the government had not been informed of any large-scale redundancies in the industry. Questioned about the reported introduction of non-paid leave schemes by several casino operators as a way to reduce costs, Mr Lei said employers could not force employees to take unpaid leave: employees needed to agree to it. He said the government had so far received no complaints regarding forced unpaid leave in the casino industry.
The official said that – once the pandemic eased – the Macau authorities would ask the Chinese central government to start issuing again exit visas to mainland residents under the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS), to help fuel the recovery of Macau’s economy.
Mainland authorities have since January temporarily stopped issuing new IVS visas for independent travellers to Macau, and have halted package tours out of China as ways to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The number of mainland cities covered by the IVS programme currently stands at 49. According to industry insiders, many Chinese gamblers use this method to enter Macau.
During a separate occasion on Thursday, Ines Chan Lou, an official of Macao Government Tourism Office, the body that oversees the city’s hotel sector, said it was anticipated Macau now had enough quarantine accommodation provided by local hotels – some of them associated with casino venues. This was on the basis that space was being freed as some people completed their 14-day quarantine after entering the city, and were either allowed home as they were clear of Covid-19, or were moved to medical facilities if they had tested positive. She was speaking at one of the regular briefings on the city’s response to the novel coronavirus threat.
A total of 12 hotels – including rooms at the Sheraton Grand Macao hotel at Sands China Ltd’s Sands Cotai Central resort – has been made available for the quarantine programme.
(Updated at 9.35am, Apr 3)
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"One thing that is certain under the coronavirus era is that the biggest beneficiaries are the illegal operators, both bricks and mortar and online"
Partner and director overseeing government affairs at casino industry consultancy Global Market Advisors