Macau’s approval on Friday of a revised bill on smoking that bans tableside tobacco use in VIP rooms, ultimately “eliminates ‘noise’” regarding the way casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) is currently classified and reported, said brokerage Deutsche Bank Securities Inc in a note that day.
Although the new rules apply from January 1, 2018, smoking tableside at VIP rooms will in effect be able to continue until January 1, 2019, as the casinos have been given a year’s grace to set up VIP smoking lounges.
“While the smoking ban is likely to serve as a headwind to GGR (namely VIP and premium mass), we believe it will level the playing field across all operators and provide a clear view of segment gaming trends”, said the memo from analysts Carlo Santarelli and Danny Valoy.
The phenomenon of “table reclassification” in Macau by casino operators has been highlighted by some analysts. The local regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau – also known by its Portuguese-language acronym DICJ – defines a VIP room not by the presence of a rolling chip programme but by table minimums and maximums and whether it is physically separate from the main gaming floor. As a result, some operators had designated premium mass areas as “VIP” in order to enable tableside smoking to continue, when smoking while gambling at main floor mass tables and slots had already been banned.
“Since the fourth quarter of 2014, when the smoking ban in mass gaming areas went into effect, the DICJ data has been muddied by reclassifications and we believe investors have often been provided with misleading segment-by-segment trends. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, roughly US$700-million of mass revenue was reclassified as VIP revenue for DICJ reporting purposes”, the Deutsche Bank note suggested.
“The vast majority of this amount relates to reclassified smoking ‘VIP’ tables at City of Dreams and Galaxy Cotai,” the institution added, referring respectively to Cotai properties of Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd.
“We believe, come January of 2019, this approximately US$2.8-billion annual run-rate mass revenue stream is up for grabs and represents a meaningful revenue share opportunity for the other participants (Wynn [Macau Ltd], MGM [China Holdings Ltd], LVS [Sands China Ltd]) on Cotai,” said the analysts.
Meanwhile, Angela Leong On Kei, an executive director of Macau gaming operator SJM Holding Ltd, and a member of the city’s Legislative Assembly, called on the Macau government to establish an interdepartmental task group to guide the installation of smoking lounges in so-called satellite casinos in Macau. Such venues make use of the gaming licence of one of the six Macau operators but have third-party management.
During a plenary meeting of the Macau Legislative Assembly on Friday that voted on the revised smoking regime, Ms Leong said satellite casinos might have to make considerable adjustments to their floor plans in order to set up smoking lounges that meet new, stricter standards set by the government.
“We must bear in mind that this involves departments under [respective] secretaries… We hope that the government can establish an inter-secretary task group that can [help] these older satellite casinos. They have been contributing to Macau’s tax revenue, peace and prosperity for many years. We hope that they can be treated fairly”, she said.
The SJM Holdings executive told GGRAsia on the sidelines of Friday’s assembly meeting that the whole process might involve the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau, the Environmental Protection Bureau and the Fire Services Bureau.
“Can it all be done in only one year? Maybe [the authorities] should provide some guidelines on how things should be done,” she said. “The government should publish the standards quickly so that the casinos would not make mistakes in their restructuring process,” Ms Leong added. She recently declared that she would seek re-election in September’s Legislative Assembly election.
Ms Leong said the satellite casinos would not cease operation even if they were unable to install government-sanctioned smoking lounges.
“They can go smoking-free if necessary. But the income of those casinos will be drastically different from before,” she suggested.
“This is not only about the casinos. The building [where a satellite casino situates] has hotels, restaurants and retail facilities too. The income of the casino also supports those other businesses”, she added.
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Lei Wai Nong
Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance