The Chinese Golden Week holiday didn't deliver the kinds of gains Macao casinos needed to lift them out of despair.

Although gaming revenue for the first eight days of October nearly quadrupled from the month before, it's still down 76% from the year-ago period. It suggests Las Vegas Sands (LVS -0.26%), MGM Resorts (MGM 1.06%), and Wynn Resorts (WYNN -0.26%), which were counting on a Golden Week rebound, still have a long way to go before they can hope to recover.

Macao skyline at dusk

Image source: Getty Images.

A ghost town

Analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein found monthly gross gaming revenue between Oct. 1 and Oct. 8 jumped to $246 million, a 279% increase from the same period in September, but still sharply below the performance of 2019.

Golden Week is the eight-day holiday that encompasses National Day on Oct. 1, which celebrates the founding of the People's Republic of China, and runs through Oct. 8. There's another similar holiday in late winter that coincides with the Lunar New Year.

The autumn holiday, however, also typically marks a mass migration of people, both within China and to international destinations, including Las Vegas, which reported this year's tourist influx was a bust. 

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was going on the assumption there would be no visits from China this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Last year over 205,000 visitors came to Las Vegas from China, or 3.6% of the city's total.

Chinese travel agency Ctrip also said tourism in China would be down 25% year over year because of COVID-19.

Staying close to home

Macao is typically a major destination for Chinese traveling in the country, but not this year. Preliminary data from the city's Public Security Police indicate just over 139,000 people visited Macao during the first week of October, an 84% decline from the year-ago numbers. 

To put that in perspective, that's about the same number who visited Macao last year every day. In 2019, nearly a million Chinese visited the city during Golden Week.

While the pandemic is the proximate reason for the decline, Chinese authorities had also imposed strict bans on travel that they only began lifting in late September, issuing tourist visas to nationals.

Although there was some hope that this would spur people to travel, and analysts had seen some Macao hotels reporting surprisingly high bookings, it ultimately didn't pan out.

A cash stash

The casinos will not be recovering any time soon, but they're also not in dire financial straits yet either. Although gaming revenue plunged another 90% in September, analysts are looking for it to be down just 70% in October.

Las Vegas Sands President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Goldstein said he believed once the travel restrictions were lifted, Macao would recover very quickly. MGM also said it was key for travel restrictions to be lifted, including from Hong Kong, for a meaningful recovery to begin, but noted MGM China still had $1.5 billion in liquidity and had a 22-month revenue "buffer" to subsist until the rebound started.

Wynn Resorts, which counts on Macao for nearly three quarters of its revenue, said its China operations had $2.5 billion in liquidity available.

Beat the rush

Now it remains to be seen how quickly tourism comes back to the peninsula, the only place in China where it's legal to gamble. 

All of the executives have placed bets it will start with the lifting of restrictions, but it seems to have failed the initial test. The next time to look for clues may be with China's Lunar New Year holiday in February.

Shares of Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts, and Wynn Resorts remain depressed, yet they all have sufficient resources available to them to survive. Now as Macao begins to reopen, this may represent an opportunity for investors to buy before the traction they'll gain from renewed tourism becomes apparent to everyone.