High rollers are getting chased out of Macau, and recently there have been two strong indications that they won’t be welcome to return.
The first is that rich gamblers didn’t show for the glorious opening of Studio City, the latest casino to open in the world’s gambling Mecca on October 27th. They weren’t really given the chance to.
The project — which was opened by Australian billionaire James Packer and Lawrence Ho, the son of Macau’s first casino billionaire, Stanley Ho — was allotted 250 tables. None of them were for high rollers.
The second indication is that the VIP junket businesses that once enabled high rollers to leverage their handsome bets are shutting down at an accelerated rate.
The junkets are pools of money that have traditionally guaranteed investors returns of 1%-2%. Experienced gamblers use that money to play, then they put a portion of their winnings back into the pool and keep the rest.
The undoing of these is all part of the Chinese government’s vision for a new, more family-friendly Macau. Since the summer of 2014 China has been cracking down on travel to the island, installed cameras in VIP rooms, monitored debit card transactions on the territory, and limited the number of tables allotted to new casino projects.
The entire industry has crumbled under this pressure, but no segment has suffered like VIP play. VIP revenue declined 33.4% in October from the same time last year. VIP volume declined 49%.
Meanwhile mass play revenue declined 21% while overall gambling revenue on Macau fell 28%.
Consider this a part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign too. The ongoing probe into the spending habits of government officials and businesspeople from all walks of life has scared many Chinese people out of doing anything that could remotely be considered an ostentatious display of wealth.
That is, in part, is why the VIP rooms are emptying.
The other part is that the junkets have been hit by a few heists over the last two years, with thieves absconding with as much as $US1.3 billion from junket pools in on robbery last year.
Jason Ader, a hedge fund manager and former star casino analyst on Wall Street, called the $US1.3 billion heist Macau’s ‘Lehman moment,’ referring to the now defunct investment bank whose bankruptcy signalled the beginning of the global financial crisis.
In 2014, 16% of Macau’s junkets went out of business. Now it is rumoured that Dore and Jimei, two junkets that operated inside the Wynn Macau, will also shut down.
What are the world’s ballers to do?
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