Las Vegas Sands predicts speedy recovery in its Asia casinos on pent-up gambling demand

Las Vegas Sands Corp expects gambling and visitation to pick up by late summer or early fall in Asia. PHOTO: REUTERS

BENGALURU (REUTERS) - Las Vegas Sands Corp on Wednesday (April 22) posted a first-quarter loss as the coronavirus kept consumers at bay, but the casino operator struck an optimistic note as pent-up demand for gambling pointed to a speedy recovery in Asia.

Shares of the company - which owns the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore - were up nearly 7 per cent in after-hours trading as the company signaled a quick recovery in Macau, Singapore and China as coronavirus-induced curbs are eased.

The company expects gambling and visitation to pick up by late summer or early fall in Asia, given its past experience in dealing with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) epidemic and Swine Flu.

"We hear anecdotally that people are really frustrated and want to go back to gambling in casinos," a company executive said on a post earnings call.

"The idea of a mask or social distancing or thermometer checks will not be difficult for local Singaporeans or Chinese. They will accept it, they will deal with it."

However, Las Vegas Sands said a US recovery would be more "drastic and slower" but added it was seeing demand for group business in August and into the fall.

The gambling industry, which thrives on air travel and large groups of people in close proximity, is one of the hardest hit as the world goes into lockdowns in its battle against the pandemic.

Liquidity during the coronavirus crisis remained a bright spot for Las Vegas Sands, with the company pointing to a strong balance sheet that would allow it to tap growth opportunities in new markets.

Revenue from the company's main casino business plunged 55.8 per cent to US$1.18 billion (S$1.68 billion) in the first quarter.

The Nevada governor has ordered all casinos and other nonessential businesses in the state to close for 30 days beginning March 18. He extended that order until April 30, and last week said he has no specific date for when nonessential businesses might be allowed to reopen.

In March, gambling revenue fell 80 per cent in Macau, the world's biggest casino hub that accounts for more than 60 per cent of the company's revenue.

The S&P 500 casinos and gaming index has lost 49 per cent this year, compared to the 13.4 per cent dip in the S&P 500.

Net loss attributable to Las Vegas Sands was US$1 million in the quarter ended March 31, compared to a profit of US$582 million a year ago.

Net revenue plunged 51.1 per cent to US$1.78 billion.

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