Macau gaming revenue rises for first time in 17 months

Gross gaming revenue in Macau rose 136 per cent in February to 7.3 billion patacas (S$1.2 billion). PHOTO: REUTERS

MACAU (BLOOMBERG) - Macau gaming revenue surged from a year-earlier month that saw casinos shut down for 15 days as Covid-19 began to sweep across the globe. But gaming operators are still seeing a lukewarm recovery as the pandemic continues to make travel difficult for gamblers.

Gross gaming revenue rose 136 per cent in February to 7.3 billion patacas (S$1.2 billion), according to data from the Gaming Inspection & Coordination Bureau. That was worse than the median analyst estimate for a 145 per cent jump.

Revenue fell 8.9 per cent from the previous month, and is still down 71 per cent from the February 2019 level, before the pandemic hit.

While the latest result represents the first gain in gaming revenue in 17 months, it was an easy comparison after a record plunge a year earlier as Macau's government suspended casino operations for more than two weeks.

Macau is still trying to lure mainland China gamblers who are discouraged by a tightened visa application process and virus tests required for crossing the border. The Lunar New Year holiday - one of the strongest weeks for casinos - was marred by an outbreak in northern China. Arrivals declined 65 per cent from last year's holiday week as Chinese officials urged citizens to stay home.

The situation should improve as Macau has gradually been easing quarantine rules on travelers from parts of China that saw winter outbreaks. The rollout of vaccines across Asia may also help the recovery, while the February opening of Sands China Ltd.'s Londoner property could draw in visitors.

The Bloomberg Intelligence index of Macau casino operators jumped 22 per cent in February amid investor optimism over the sector. The benchmark Hang Seng Index gained 2.5 per cent in the same period. Casino stocks surged the most in three months last Tuesday after the China quarantine rules were lifted.

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