For the first time in more than two years, Chinese gambling oasis Macau enjoyed an increase in monthly gaming revenue, and casino operators should probably thank Steve Wynn for it.
The casino magnate opened his new Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) Palace venue on Aug. 22 and gaming revenue that had been tanking all month long -- just as they had been for the previous 26 months -- suddenly made a U-turn and spiked higher. According to Macau's Gaming Inspection & Coordination Bureau, gaming revenue for August came in at more than 18.8 billion patacas, or about $2.3 billion, a 1.1% increase from the year before. Union Gaming, an investment bank that specializes in the casino industry, attributes the turnaround to VIP gamblers sniffing around the new casino and "causing players to return and trial the property."
When cracking down breaks the bank
It's not that high rollers have been persona non grata in Macau for two years, but rather they haven't been made to feel especially welcome, either. A crackdown by Beijing on luxury, gift giving, and corruption that had officials more closely monitoring the money flowing into Macau resulted in VIPs looking elsewhere to satiate their gambling appetite. Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore have all benefited from the tougher rules.
Moreover, the island is under a mandate to become more like Las Vegas with family friendly entertainment and gambling opportunities that have more mass appeal. When Melco Crown Entertainment (NASDAQ:MLCO) opened its Studio City casino last October, it featured a giant figure-eight Ferris wheel and a Batman-themed roller coaster, as well as other forms of entertainment. In fact, Studio City had no table games reserved solely for VIP gamblers.
Part of the forced migration to mass entertainment outlets was a 3% limitation on the annual growth rate in table games that would be permitted. Although it's not quite a hard-and-fast rule, Macau regulators have been tightening up the process.
Spreading table games thin
Whereas Studio City was allotted 250 table games when it opened, as was the second phase of development at Galaxy Entertainment Group's Galaxy Macau, Wynn Palace only got 150 tables spread across three years. Despite being able to handle 500 tables and reportedly asking for 400 tables, Wynn received an initial allotment of 100 tables with 25 more granted in 2017 and another 25 the following year. The casino operator quickly said it would be transferring in tables from its existing Wynn Macau venue to make the new casino viable.
Previously, CEO Steve Wynn railed against the paucity of table games being granted to casino operators, noting the billions they were investing in the city, only to be prevented from generating a return on their investment.
"We build tens of thousands of rooms and restaurants and attractions," he told Wall Street analysts, but complained people weren't "allowed to gamble because you can't have the tables. But that's one of the reasons they come to Macau."
Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) just got a similar table game allotment for the new Parisian that's scheduled to open this month.
Yet while Melco Crown chose to forego any VIP tables, both Wynn and Sands are planning on accommodating the high rollers from the get-go. That was likely in part due to Melco Crown Entertainment's poor showing since Studio City opened. The new venue has recorded two straight quarters of disappointing results and it will now be opening several VIP tables to help boost interest.
How long can the good times last?
With all the hype and excitement built into Wynn's $4.2 billion investment in the Palace, it was likely bound to attract more attention from the VIPs. The same goes with the Parisian -- Wynn and Sands are famous for building award-winning, profitable venues -- so analysts are expecting Macau to post back-to-back months of rising gaming revenue, the first time in more than two-and-a-half years that will have occurred. The problem comes in October after the initial enthusiasm fades and there's no additional new casino openings until the second quarter of 2017 when MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM) unveils the MGM Cotai.
While much hope and faith is being placed on mainland Chinese citizens to lift up the island's prospects, a stagnating economy is expected to slow further in the back half of the year.
Casino operators can thank Steve Wynn for halting the slide in monthly gaming revenue, and they'll probably be able to do the same with Sheldon Adelson next month after Sands opens the Parisian. But it's much too early to say revenue won't resume its fall afterwards and the turnabout could indicate this is celebration that's come a bit too early.