Fitch Ratings now expects Macau gross gaming revenue (GGR) to grow 13 percent in 2018. That’s a two percent increase on earlier forecasts, which called for an 11 percent hike on last year’s $33.2 billion haul.

Fitch Ratings Macau gross gaming revenue

The completion of the Macau to Hong Kong bridge is one reason why Fitch Ratings believes 2018 will be another robust year for enclave casinos. (Image: Shell Global)

Fitch senior gaming analyst Alex Bumazhny said more luxury room capacity, predominantly on the Cotai Strip, is the leading factor for the GGR forecast bump. January’s strong performance was added reason to amend the company’s forecast.

After months of delays, MGM Cotai opened its 1,390-room integrated casino resort earlier this month. City of Dreams’ Morpheus tower and its 780 rooms are to open this spring, and room conversions at the Parisian are all expected to attract more premium visitors.

Reached by GGRAsia for comment, Bumazhny explained, “We adjusted our forecast as we grew more confident about the market following our Macau trip and the January gaming revenues publication.” 2018 began with a successful January, as gross gaming revenue surged 36.4 percent to $3.25 billion.

If Fitch’s 2018 forecast comes to fruition, Macau casinos would be looking at GGR of around $37.5 billion. That would be the enclave’s fourth-best year in its history. Its all-time GGR high came in 2013 when the Chinese Special Administrative Region generated over $45 billion in gross casino revenue.

Infrastructure Improvements

Along with more five-star room occupancies, Fitch Ratings believes infrastructure improvements in Macau will lead to an increase in gambling activity.

Bumazhny pointed to a $17.5 billion bridge connecting Hong Kong with Macau that is set to open this July as the most notable infrastructure development. The roughly 35-mile expanse will eliminate the need to take a ferry service in order to travel between the two major metropolises.

Bumazhny also referenced a new light rail service serving the Cotai Strip, as well as a public transit link connecting Guangzhou to Macau. Both infrastructure projects, according to the Fitch Ratings analyst, should pivot Macau towards more of a “service based economy” and China’s growing middle class.

VIP Loses Importance

After three years of annual declines due to China’s federal government cracking down on junket companies transporting VIPs from the mainland to Macau, casinos came back with a vengeance in 2017, with gross gaming revenues rising over 19 percent.

Fitch says the VIP segment has stabilized after losing 60 percent of its peak gambling activity, but added that “caution is warranted given the segment’s reliance on credit.”

Casino operators have been marketing towards more of the general population, and the strategy has worked. Visitor arrivals increased 6.5 percent during the Chinese New Year holiday this month, with over 960,000 tourists spending their vacation time in Macau.

Wynn Safe

The six licensed casino operators will begin seeing their permits expire in 2020. MGM Resorts and SJM Holdings are first, followed in 2022 by Wynn Resorts, Sands, Melco, and Galaxy Entertainment.

Bumazhny opined that the gaming concession expirations are not a major risk, and all are expected to be renewed. That’s good news for Wynn, a company that’s worldwide reputation continues to plunge in the fallout of the sexual misconduct allegations being made against founder Steve Wynn.