China Economic Woes Not Yet Weighing on Macau

Posted on: August 23, 2023, 03:31h. 

Last updated on: August 24, 2023, 11:21h.

Macau’s six casino operators are forecast to notch in aggregate third-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) at 80% of the levels seen before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Morgan Stanley.

MGM China
MGM Cotai in Macau. The operator is pacing the region’s gross gaming revenue recovery. (Image: YouTube)

That could be a sign that China’s proliferating macroeconomic headwinds aren’t yet weighing on the special administrative region’s (SAR) gaming industry. While the bank forecasts the six concessionaires will reach 80% of pre-COVID EBITDA levels in the current quarter, it projects MGM China will be the stalwart, as that operator ascends to 120% of pre-pandemic EBITDA highs.

MGM China has more tables, redesigned casino floors, adding F&B (including bubble tea) on the floor, removing walkway at the casino floor, use of RFID chips, creative marketing programs, and personalized experiences rendered,” noted the Morgan Stanley analysts. “Peers are acknowledging the lead, and hoping to pick up a trick or two.”

MGM China operates two integrated resorts in Macau, and is 56% owned by MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM).

Premium Customers Supporting Macau Casinos

The six Macau concessionaires are Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts & Entertainment (NASDAQ: MLCO), MGM China, Sands China, SJM Holdings, and Wynn Macau. In previous eras of vibrancy for the gaming enclave, VIPs drove gross gaming revenue (GGR).

This year, data suggests it’s premium mass customers — the segment in between mass-market players and whales — that are doing the heavy lifting, while there are modest signs high rollers are starting to return. Those are positives for Macau operators, because mass-market players are more economically sensitive and likely to reduce spending if the mainland economy weakens.

“This is why the [Macau] recovery is premium-led (and grind mass has lagged),” added Morgan Stanley. “Younger patrons are visible on casino floors, as well as around the resorts. High-end customers are spending as much or even more than pre-COVID levels.”

That’s a plus for operators, such as Sands China, with significant retail space leased to luxury brands.

“They claim that similar to luxury sales in China, the top 1 percent of mainland Chinese are traveling and spending on entertainment,” the Morgan Stanley analysts observed.

China Economy Not Pinching VIPs

While the return of high rollers to Macau has been incremental, there are signs it’s gaining pace in recent weeks. The advantage for concessionaires is that while these bettors are smaller in number, their average bet is around $13K per hand, and they’re not as economically sensitive as their mass-market counterparts.

The VIP cohort’s resilience and increased visitation is likely one reason why Macau topped Las Vegas in GGR terms in the first half of this year, regaining its crown as the world’s top casino center.

Morgan Stanley added that house direct VIP service is “already above 2019 levels, and thus incremental VIP revenue should come from casual junkets.”