HONG KONG: The vast, glitzy gaming halls of Macau are open, but thousands of baccarat tables are empty. The world’s biggest gambling hub has barred entry to most travellers and hotels are being used to isolate new arrivals in case they have been infected by coronavirus.
In Las Vegas, the casinos have been forced to close in order to prevent the spread of the disease. The same has happened in Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and Cambodia.
The global business of gambling – which thrives on air travel and large groups of people in close proximity – is one of the hardest hit as the world goes into lockdown.
The S&P 500 casinos and gaming index has lost 51 per cent this year, more than double the 24 per cent dip in the S&P 500.
Macau’s gaming revenue fell 80 per cent in March from the year before, according to government figures. It fell 88 per cent in February when authorities suspended casino operation for two weeks. Analysts expect April’s numbers to show an even sharper drop.
The former Portuguese colony, now a special administrative region of China, gets more than 80 per cent of tax revenues from the gaming industry, which employs about three quarters of the territory’s 600,000 population, either directly or indirectly.
Macau’s government said last week it was “ready for the worst” and pledged to support small businesses and workers financially. It is effectively leaving casino operators – which have reaped huge profits over the past two decades of rapid growth – to deal with the dip in business themselves.
“This is a test to the new government and a big test to the six gaming operators,” Macau leader Ho Iat Seng said last week as he criticised the casinos for not initially cooperating with a government plan to use their hotels as quarantine facilities, although some have relented. “What social responsibilities should they bear?” he asked.