Genting shut out of Macau casino market
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Genting shut out of Macau casino market

Six incumbents all win licence renewals but government aims to tighten controls

Pedestrians walk past a lion statue outside the MGM Cotai casino resort, with the Wynn Macau casino resort in the background, in Macau. (Bloomberg Photo)
Pedestrians walk past a lion statue outside the MGM Cotai casino resort, with the Wynn Macau casino resort in the background, in Macau. (Bloomberg Photo)

Macau’s six casino operators won new licences to continue running their businesses in the territory, but a company linked to Malaysia-based Genting Group failed in its attempt to gain entry to the major gaming hub.

The committee in charge of awarding new licences said on Saturday the government would discuss contract details with the winners later and settle on official agreements before the end of the year. The new licences, expected to take effect at the beginning of next year, are for 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. GMM Ltd, a company controlled by Genting chairman 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 the role of junket operators 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 the end of the year. 

The decision to retain all existing operators eliminated a major uncertainty facing an industry hit by the double whammy of Covid-induced tourism drought and China’s crackdown on high rollers to curb capital outflow.

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 on Saturday.

“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 record low of $49 million in July, a 98% decline from the pre-Covid 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.

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