Macau’s casino operators get new licences, Genting loses out

Macau’s casino operators get new licences, Genting loses out
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(Nov 26): Macau's six casino operators won new licences to continue running their businesses in the city, as a firm linked to the Genting group failed in its attempt to gain entry to the major gaming hub.

The committee in charge of the bidding of new licences said at a press conference on Saturday (Nov 26) the government will discuss contract details with the winners later and settle on official agreements before year end. The new licences, expected to take effect at the beginning of next year, are allowed to carry a maximum term of 10 years, according to Macau’s gaming law. 

The operators are Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, MGM China Holdings Ltd, Sands China Ltd, Wynn Macau Ltd, Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd and SJM Holdings Ltd. Their competitor GMM Ltd, a company controlled by Malaysian casino tycoon and Genting Bhd chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, was not selected for a new licence. 

The announcement concludes a sweeping change to Macau’s gambling industry that started in September last year, when authorities proposed new gaming regulations to strengthen government control over casino operations and crack down on junkets’ role in soliciting high-rolling bettors from mainland China, where gambling remains illegal. The law was passed in June and the bidding process for new gaming licences started at the same time, with existing ones due to expire by year end.

The decision to retain all existing operators eliminated a major uncertainty facing an industry hit by the double whammy of Covid-19-induced tourism drought and China’s crackdown on high rollers to curb capital outflows. By reshaping Macau’s gaming landscape, Beijing is pushing the enclave to reduce its reliance on gambling — which contributes 80% of the local government’s income — and diversify into other sectors such as tourism, conferences, Chinese medicine and finance. 

The licence holders must prioritise the safeguarding of local employment, the development of the overseas tourism market and investment in non-gaming businesses, Secretary for Administration and Justice Cheong Weng Chon said at the press conference.

“The operation and development of our gaming industry has come to a certain scale today, but there are also some problems,” Cheong said. “For example, the source of our tourists is too concentrated. It’s not healthy.”

Macau relies on mainland China for the bulk of its visitors, and its tourism has been severely battered during the Covid-19 pandemic as Beijing’s zero tolerance to the virus means repeated lockdowns and visa restrictions that keep people from travelling. In July, when the enclave faced its biggest outbreak, the city shut down for two weeks, leaving casinos with almost zero income. 

Gaming revenue in the city has plunged since March and fell to a record low of US$49 million in July, a 98% decline from the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019. 

While the final contracts will stipulate how much operators need to invest in developing the overseas market and non-gaming sectors, as well as specific projects, in a force majeure, some of the contract terms and conditions could be temporarily waived, Cheong said. 

Melco chairman Lawrence Ho said the company is committed to Macau and its development as Asia’s premier tourist destination, according to a statement on Saturday. 

SJM said in a separate statement that it’s confident in Macau’s long-term growth prospects, and is committed to the sustainable development of the local economy.