China may have loosened visa rules for the gambling hub, but casino resort operators of Macau will have to wait a little longer before they get back to business.
Macau authorities reinstated tough Covid-19 curbs including locking down a major casino over the weekend after a handful of cases were detected, even as China announced a loosening of visa rules for visitors to the world’s biggest gambling hub.
Authorities locked down the MGM Cotai casino resort owned by MGM China on Sunday, with staff and guests ordered to stay inside until November 1. All of Macau’s 700,000 residents are mandated to take rapid antigen tests daily during the period, the government said.
The casino closure deals a blow to operators who have already been grappling with China’s zero-Covid restrictions for more than 2-1/2 years, losing millions of dollars monthly.
Macau had been coronavirus-free for more than three months until last week. The swift return of curbs marks a potential setback for industry executives and investors who were keen for a quick recovery in gambling revenues in the Chinese special administrative region.
MGM China did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Industry publication Inside Asian Gaming, which showed images of two men who were caught and returned to the casino after attempting to run away, quoted the company as saying it would work with the Macau government on all preventive actions to reduce the risk of Covid transmission.
The prospects for travel to Macau have improved, however, with China’s immigration bureau saying on Monday that mainland residents would be able to use an online visa system from November 1 to travel to the former Portuguese colony.
In-person applications have been required for the past 2-1/2 years due to Covid-19 restrictions, but the bureau said that as the current Covid situation in Macau was stable and demand to visit the city was increasing, the government had decided to offer e-visas.
Shares in Hong Kong-listed Macau casinos rose between 2 percent-5 percent on Monday, cheered by easier access to the gambling hub for mainland visitors.
“This will be a great boon for Macau’s return to normalcy,” said DS Kim, an analyst at JP Morgan in Hong Kong. There are still multiple Covid-19 testing requirements to enter Macau and to return to the mainland but the resumption “greatly alleviates the frictions for a Macau trip … and could signal to many that ‘it’s OK’ to come to Macau now.”
Macau casino executives also said a decision on new licenses could come as early as this week.
Macau’s six casino operators — Sands China, Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment, MGM China, Melco Resorts and SJM Holdings — are awaiting a government decision on whether they will be granted new licenses that would allow them to continue operating in 2023.
Any operators unable to secure a new license would be required to return their premises to the government. New license terms will be 10 years versus 20 years previously, giving operators a shorter horizon to make back billions of dollars they have to invest under the government mandate.
(Reporting by Farah Master and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Kim Coghill, Kenneth Maxwell and Edmund Klamann)
Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch
Photo credit: The Macau skyline. Mike / Wikimedia