Casino stocks rise on report of relaxed Macau visa rules

A group of tourists walking out of Macau's Wynn Resorts casino.
A group of tourists walking out of Macau's Wynn Resorts casino.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LAS VEGAS (Bloomberg) - Shares of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Resorts International rose, aided by reports that China eased restrictions on local tourists visiting Macau, rare good news following a year of declining play at casinos there.

Travelers holding mainland China passports can now stay seven days in Macau, up from five days currently, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The change may alleviate a freefall in betting in the world's largest casino market. The government shortened the permitted stay last year in response to what was believed to be widespread cheating on the part of visa holders who claimed to be visiting another destination while only staying in Macau.

"High-frequency gamblers across segments can now visit twice every 30 days vs. twice every 60 days," Anthony Wong, a UBS Securities analyst, wrote in a note to investors. The change "might also suggest that current demand has reached a level the government feels a need to act to support it from falling further."

Las Vegas Sands, the world's largest casino company, added 4.1 per cent to US$52.17, while Wynn Resorts rose 3.9 per cent to US$97.62 at 12:20 p.m. in New York. MGM Resorts, which is also facing a call to restructure from an activist investor, gained 3.3 per cent to US$18.23.

Macau casino revenue fell to the lowest since November 2010 amid China's slowing economy and a graft crackdown that deterred high rollers.

Gross gaming revenue in June fell 36.2 per cent to 17.4 billion patacas (S$2.93 billion), the 13th straight month of declines, according to data released by Macau's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau. That compares with the median estimate of a 38.3 per cent drop from six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The last time casinos got so little money from gamblers in the world's largest casino hub was in 2010, when monthly revenue averaged 15.7 billion patacas. Analysts expect the loosening of the travel restrictions, which they saw as a major reason for Macau's casino downturn, to help support the market.

"We believe this is a positive development, no two ways about it," DS Kim, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note on Wednesday, before the revenue data was released. "This might be a sign that, the governments may want to stabilize Macanese economy before things go a little too far."