Ditching Junkets and Covid, Macau Steps Back From The Brink

So a man…invariably a man…sometimes with a bejewelled beauty on his arm…walks into a casino…

It’s the foundational cliché of high-stakes gambling, the glamorous high-roller coming to the tables, abeyance smoothing his progress, to bet his millions on the game and wheel of turning fortune.

In the funky, neon glamour of Macau, the former Portuguese colony and only place in China, alongside Hong Kong, where gambling is legal, the myth of “El Gordo”, the big hitter, has been especially potent.

Between 2013 and 2021 just one outfit, called Suncity, arranging so-called “junkets” for high-rollers from mainland China to the gaming entrepôt, generated a take of some US$105 billion (£83.51bn), it’s conservatively estimated.

Action was played out in noirish rooms-within-rooms, often, it’s alleged, in casinos run by the great US operators – Las Vegas Sands, MGM and Wynn, among them, all of whom declined to comment to iGamingFuture for the purposes of this article.

And the man behind the massive operation? None other than Asia’s gambling kingpin Alvin Chau, the boss of Suncity.

Sin City

But Chau, whose reach also embraced Australia, where he likewise organised now-defunct junkets to top casinos, was jailed for 18-years in January by mainland
Beijing authorities on charges of abetting organised crime, illegal betting and fraud.

Junkets to the Sin City of the East, where gambling profits for many years even outpaced Vegas, were severely curtailed; if not eliminated.

Today, as faded Macau comes storming back from the impact of draconian Covid19 lockdowns imposed by Beijing, the myth of the high-roller and the junket has been busted.

Prosperity, we’ve been reminded, is built on “The Little Guy”, stupid.

At year’s end 2022 Macau’s Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) was down 51 percent, YoY, to US$5.24 billion (£4.17bn) – a new annual low. Visitor arrivals dropped by a quarter to 5.7 million punters.

But now the regulatory Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau of Macau has announced that GGR for April, alone, has hit US$1.8 billion (£1.43bn) – a spectacular 450 percent increase, YoY.

With April outperforming every month since January 2020, Macau is back – and the relatively modest mainland punter, who is limited by Chinese law from wagering more than the equivalent of US$50,000 a year, is king – not the big hitter on their nebulous junket.

Nearly two million visitors entered the enclave in March, compared to almost 527,000 in the same month last year.

And with up to 80 percent of Macao’s 700,000 residents dependent on the gambling industry, the special administrative zone can now breathe a sigh of relief.

The six foreign mega-casino operators, moreover, among them Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts and SJM Resorts, as well as the aforementioned Sands, MGM and Wynn, have just had their 10-year licences renewed.

In Macau, it’s fair to say, Lady Luck is back with a swing.

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