Lucky high rollers raise stakes but pull down casino profits

High rollers wagered more money at both of Singapore's casinos in the first quarter of this year - but also got luckier, pulling down the operating profits of the two casinos.

At Marina Bay Sands (MBS), spending at VIP tables shot up to US$18.21 billion (S$22.5 billion) between January and March, 42.2 per cent more than in the same period last year. It was the highest quarterly volume in MBS' history.

But for every $1 wagered by VIP gamblers, the casino earned 2.51 cents, down from 3.58 cents in the first quarter of last year. This contributed to a 16 per cent year-on-year drop in operating profits to US$396.8 million.

At Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), operating profits also slumped to $255.4 million, a fall of 34 per cent year on year.

RWS did not give specific figures, but said the first quarter was "largely affected" by a much weaker win percentage despite a "significant increase" in premium players' rolling volume.

Analysts put the high spending by premium players down to two factors - more visitors from China, who make up the bulk of high rollers, and Chinese New Year, which usually sees a jump in gamblers trying their luck.

"If you look at the general picture, the political scene in China has become more stable. High rollers may be coming back after the leadership change," said OCBC Investment Research analyst Carey Wong.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch gaming analyst Melvyn Boey said whether this high growth can be sustained will depend on the amount of credit that casinos are willing to extend to customers, as well as the accessibility of infrastructure. "For example, the expansion of the airport would allow more flights to Singapore and bring in more visitors," he said.

Mr Boey added that the VIP market has room to grow while the mass market has reached a steady state and saw minimal growth in the first quarter.

MBS figures showed that spending by mass-market gamblers increased by 2.4 per cent year on year to US$1.19 billion. The amount wagered on slot games also rose by 1.6 per cent to US$2.79 billion.

Earlier this year, MBS said it planned to capture the "premium mass market" - those who can afford to spend US$10,000 to US$20,000 at the tables.

"Looking at the numbers, I believe they have managed to do so but it's at a very early stage," said Mr Boey, adding that MBS is constrained by its hotel's high occupancy rate of 98.5 per cent.

The non-gaming sector of both resorts performed well, however.

RWS' non-gaming revenue was up by a healthy 17 per cent. Occupancy rates at its hotels rose to 92 per cent, from 86 per cent last year, as rooms cost an average $404, up from $338. The newly opened Marine Life Park attracted about 7,400 visitors daily while Universal Studios Singapore had an average of 8,400 visitors.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel and The Shoppes, the integrated resort's mall, raked in revenue growth of 9.7 per cent and 6.7 per cent respectively.