Macau April gambling revenue up 13% as China's rich roll dice

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Gambling revenue in Macau, the world's biggest gaming destination, rose 13.2 per cent last month from a year earlier, buoyed by strong demand from wealthy Chinese punters.

April's revenue at 28.3 billion patacas (S$4.33 billion) was in line with analyst forecasts and was the second-highest monthly revenue total this year after a record 31.3 billion patacas in March.

Macau, a Portuguese colony until 1999, is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. Home to half a million people, monthly gambling revenues are more than double the Las Vegas strip's annual take of US$6 billion (S$7.3 billion).

Revenues this month are expected to be strong due to the week-long holiday at the start of the month.

Located on China's southern coast, Macau depends on high-spending VIP gamblers, or "whales", who spend 1 million yuan (S$198,000) at a time. The territory is also increasingly depending on the fast-growing mass market of Chinese visitors, but more than two-thirds of casino revenues still come from VIP spenders.

The VIP sector is highly reliant on junket operators to attract millionaire Chinese spenders. Casino operators pay hefty commissions to the junkets for providing the services.

The mass-market segment, made up of cash-rich Chinese mom-and-pop visitors, are a key target for casino operators and Macau's government who are pushing to diversify Macau's gambling base.

Non-gaming ventures such as shows, retail and food and beverage still make up a fraction of overall revenues compared to Las Vegas, where non-gaming earnings outweigh gambling revenue.

Casinos such as Las Vegas Sands, Galaxy Entertainment Group and Melco Crown Entertainment are developing attractions to appeal to a wider array of visitors.

Sands China, Mr Sheldon Adelson's Macau unit, announced a licensing agreement with movie studio Dreamworks Animation this week, enabling the casino to use characters like Shrek and Po from the animated film Kung Fu Panda in the resorts to attract leisure and family visitors.