Global Gambling: Macau Booms, Singapore Slows, Japan In Anticipation

on September 09 2013 10:40 AM
  • Wynn Steve Casino 2012 2
    U.S. casino magnate Steve Wynn, head of Wynn Resorts Ltd and Wynn Macau Ltd, introduces the company's latest casino resort during a news conference in Macau June 5, 2012. Reuters
  • Casino Macau 2011
    Cards on a blackjack table in Macau Reuters
  • Tourists stand outside the Wynn Casino in Macau
    Tourists stand outside the Wynn Casino in Macau May 17, 2011. REUTERS
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The Chinese gambling haven of Macau is booming as VIPs spend cash more heavily and rapidly, while Singaporean gamblers slow down and Japanese politicians back groundbreaking casinos, according to an industry report by Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C) Monday.

In Macau, record revenues in August and March earlier this year could help the city achieve revenue growth of 17 percent for 2013, or $44 billion for the year overall.

Fresh infrastructure, like a new intercity railway completed in December 2012, or the new Chimelong casino due in late 2013, will attract more visitors from China, who represent the vast majority of Macau’s gamblers.

Macau’s success this year and revenue growth forecast of 17 percent compares favorably to Las Vegas’ projected revenue growth of 2 percent for this year as well as 2014, according to Citi analysts.

Although big spenders, defined as those who spent more than 1 million Macau patacas ($125,000) per trip, drove the revenue gains, more ordinary gamblers could also boost margins for Macau casino operators.

“There could be further upside to our revised estimates if mass GGR [gross gambling revenue] beats our forecast,” read the report.

In Singapore, however, another major Asian gambling market, Citi analysts are cautious. They cited faltering economic growth and weaker currencies as harming gaming appetite from ASEAN residents.

“The slowdown in economic growth in India and Indonesia could cool gaming demand from the two countries,” wrote analysts.

Citing 10 percent depreciation in the Indian rupee and the Indonesian rupiah over August, they continued: “The mass market will therefore likely see flattish growth as Indians and Indonesians will find a trip to Singapore much more expensive than before.”

But a brighter spot on the horizon for Asian gamblers and global casino operators alike is a potential new market in Japan, as political support for legalizing gambling peaks after Tokyo won rights to host the 2020 Olympics.

The Citi analysts cite four casino operators as already showing interest in opening casinos there, though the government may only issue three casino permits at first.

In an August research note, Citi researchers estimated that Japan could pull in up to $15 billion in annual gambling revenue, doubling Las Vegas revenues and leaving it second only to Macau in Asia.

“Key political figures have publicly backed the initiative, and the ruling party currently has the votes to pass it,” wrote the analysts then. “The casino gambling bill – the first step – is likely to be presented in 4Q [the fourth quarter].”

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS) is one U.S. company that could benefit substantially, as analysts pegged it as an early favorite to land a casino project in lucrative Tokyo. About 90 percent of the company’s gross earnings already come from Asian markets.

Still, even despite the fresh interest sparked by Japan’s Olympic victory, casinos in Japan are several years away from breaking ground, with openings likely to happen around 2020.   

The report also covers gambling markets in Australia, the United States, the Philippines, and Cambodia. Revenue growth prospects for Australian and U.S. casinos remain very sluggish. 

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