Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Leong Vai Tac (pictured), has admitted that the city’s casino earnings might be negatively affected by the planned new customer verification technology at local automated teller machines (ATMs).
Holders of Chinese mainland-issued China UnionPay Co Ltd cards that wish to use them for cash withdrawal at Macau ATMs will soon have to present their identity card and pass a facial recognition scan.
Mr Leong told reporters on Thursday that he noted the new technology might have some influence on visitor behaviour, particularly regarding their spending in casinos. He expected it might take some time for visitors to get used to the new measure.
Mr Leong noted in his comments to reporters that the new technology was to prevent people from misusing such cash withdrawal facilities. Mr Leong confirmed that the new ATM machines with face recognition and identity card-reading technology would be gradually introduced into the market.
The primary phase covered ATMs in or near casinos, said Mr Leong.
Ambrose So Shu Fai, chief executive of Macau casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd, told media on Monday that he anticipated “minimal impact” to the city’s casino earnings from the announced UnionPay ATM changes.
Casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) in Macau rose by 16.3 percent year-on-year in April, to MOP20.16 billion (US$2.52 billion), according to data from the city’s regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau. It meant the Macau market’s GGR tally for the first four months of 2017 stood at MOP83.64 billion, a year-on-year expansion of 13.8 percent.
Commenting on the new ATM measure on Monday, brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd said: “We do not expect the actual impact on [gaming] demand to be very meaningful, as there still are many other ‘channels’ – at least for now – that can help players/junkets to get cash in Macau, via pawnshops for example. That said, we can’t rule out any potential impact on ‘player psychology’, as some players/junkets may feel reluctant to use ATM cards given increased identity checks, so any progress in this area warrants close monitoring in our view.”
According to the results of a proprietary survey of 1,900 mainland China residents by brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd, published in January, many casino customers – particularly at the premium end – rely on cash withdrawals from bank accounts held in Macau or Hong Kong, and transactions via UnionPay bank cards, to fund their gambling.
When gambling respondents were asked about their preparations regarding cash to spend at casinos, the methods most frequently mentioned were bringing in cash and using UnionPay-enabled ATMs. Respectively, 49 percent and 46 percent of self-identified gambling trippers to Macau highlighted these methods. More than 20 percent of such trippers claimed to have access to either Hong Kong or Macau bank accounts, while pawnshops were utilised by nearly 20 percent of such respondents.
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”Our own consensus is that any newcomers to this [junket] sector should be corporatised, and should be financially sound and able to commit a higher guarantee deposit”
Kwok Chi Chung
President of junket trade body, the Macau Association of Gaming and Entertainment Promoters