Casino revenues fall for third consecutive month

The tough times for Macau continue to cause executive stress in the Asian offshore gambling mecca, with the news that casino revenues fell for the third month, declining 5.8 percent from a year ago to 7.65 billion patacas.

The tally represented Macau's biggest year-on-year percentage decline in more than three years, unofficial data reported yesterday by Portuguese news agency Lusa shows.

Beijing's seven-month-old restrictions on mainland visits has combined with a credit crunch among the VIP junket agents who lend money to high rollers, bringing growth in Macau's once-booming casino industry to a dramatic halt.

Average casino winnings shrank to 7.8 billion patacas per month in the last four months of the 2008, down 20 percent from 9.7 billion per month recorded between January and August.

The year-on-year growth rate in monthly revenues plunged to minus 2.1 percent on average in the last four months from 51.6 percent during the first eight months, although that comparison is skewed by major resort openings last year including the Grand Lisboa, Crown, Venetian and MGM Grand operations.

Despite the dramatic slowdown in recent months, casino revenue for the full year grew 31 percent overall in 2008 to 108.76 billion patacas, up from 83.02 billion patacas in 2007.

The leaked unofficial figures have historically proven accurate. On average, they underestimated the actual revenue data by 1.08 percent in the 14 months to October.

December 2008 also suffered an unfavourable calendar comparison as it included one less Saturday than the same month a year ago.

Beijing has cut the frequency of visits that mainland passport holders can make to Macau, reducing these to once every three months from once every two weeks prior to June 1.

At the same time, the financial crisis is eroding private wealth across Asia. High rollers who account for about 70 percent of Macau's casino revenue and who often play on credit have delayed or defaulted on repayments to the junket agents who bankroll their gambling sessions, reports the South China Morning Post.

Junkets fearful of getting caught out for cash have responded by tightening their credit controls, which adds more downward pressure on VIP gaming revenues.

The fall-off has dealt a busted flush to investors in Macau plays. Las Vegas Sands Corp's share price plummeted a shocking 94.25 percent last year, while Wynn Resort's 62.31 percent decline was the best performance among the city's six licensed casino operators.

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