Singapore casinos on a roll despite fall in Chinese high rollers

Despite a drop in VIP punters from China, RWS and MBS are still profitable as VIP gaming accounts for a smaller proportion of their profit.
Despite a drop in VIP punters from China, RWS and MBS are still profitable as VIP gaming accounts for a smaller proportion of their profit.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Chinese high-stakes gamblers may be shying away from Singapore but its two casinos are still profitable, owing to steady mass gaming growth, Hong Kong and Macau industry experts said.

VIP gaming - with the majority of punters made up of mainland high rollers - accounts for a smaller proportion of profit in Singapore, they added.

"The good news is, Singapore doesn't necessarily depend on Chinese high rollers to survive," Mr Grant Govertsen, managing partner of Union Gaming Research Macau, said at the Global Gaming Expo Asia conference in Macau.

"Even though VIP dollars in revenue terms are big, they are much smaller in terms of profit. So, the VIP segment could go away entirely, and the profit story, while lower, would still be among the most enviable in the world," he added.

The G2E conference ran from Tuesday to yesterday. Organised by the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions, it is the biggest gaming exhibition and conference in Asia. It attracted 9,000 participants this year, up from 8,200 last year.

Chinese arrivals to Singapore have fallen because of the growing popularity of North Asia, particularly Japan, with the weaker yen, and Tokyo's relaxed visa policy.

The stronger Singdollar to the yuan has also made the Republic more expensive, relative to Japan, Korea and Europe, analysts said.

"The anti-corruption crackdown in China has had a material impact on VIP trends in Singapore because they feel Beijing is watching. So it's not worth their trouble to go to Singapore right now.

"I don't think there is anything Singapore can do. It's entirely up to Beijing, which is influencing the behaviour of VIP gamblers," Mr Govertsen said.

VIP high-roller visits to Singapore are falling also because casino operators are reducing credit to them as bad debts pile up.

Another factor was the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March last year, which dampened demand from Chinese tourists, who typically travel to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as part of a multi-destination tour.

Even with the drop in VIP numbers, the two integrated resorts (IR) are each still looking at an estimated profit of more than $1 billion a year, Mr Govertsen said.

He said: "Instead of $1.4 billion or $1.5 billion, we are forecasting around $1.1 billion in Ebitda this year for Resorts World Sentosa.

"The estimates for Marina Bay Sands' cash flows are higher, about US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion), because I think they are generally a better operator, better at controlling costs, its location is superior, and so far this year, have played luckier in VIP, relative to RWS."

Ebitda is a measure of profit before tax, interest and other items.

Mr Vitaly Umansky, Sanford C Bernstein (Hong Kong) senior research analyst for global gaming, said: "Even with bad debts rising, RWS and MBS are still able to maintain fairly robust cash-flow generation, so they are doing well, even if a little slower."

Morgan Stanley Asia managing director Praveen Choudhary said Singapore's IRs can survive the drop in Chinese high-rollers as VIP punters account for a smaller proportion of profit, and that the mass gaming business should grow up to 5 per cent a year for the next several years.

Analysts see Singapore's gross gaming revenues staying flat at about US$6 billion this year, with mass gaming growth offsetting part of the drop in VIP revenues.

"The VIP market is undergoing change. It's not going away, just shrinking," Mr Umansky said.

"The reality is that the bulk of the business in Singapore is local or quasi-local. It is Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia that drive the mass market."

gleong@sph.com.sg