Macau casinos to reopen after virus outbreak forced shutdowns

Business could remain slow, however, as travel restrictions remain in place due to the virus, analysts say.

Macau's casinos Grand Lisboa with passersby in the foreground.
Casinos in Macau were closed for 15 days to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus [File: Justin Chin/Bloomberg]

Casinos in the world’s biggest gambling hub were cleared to resume operations on Thursday, following an unprecedented closure for 15 days to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Lei Wai Nong, secretary for economy and finance in the Chinese territory of Macau, said in a briefing Monday that casinos can reopen Feb. 20, though it will be conditional based on criteria that he didn’t specify.

The resumption could lift a sector already reeling from a slowdown in the Chinese economy and a shift to gambling operations in Southeast Asia. Fitch Ratings estimated that the crisis could wipe out $3.3 billion in cash flow for the six Macau operators, including the local units of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts International.

A Bloomberg Intelligence index of Macau casino operators fell as much as 0.5% in early trading Tuesday in Hong Kong. The gauge has climbed back 6% this month, after dropping 10% in January.

While the re-opening could provide some relief for casino operators, the move will have little impact on fundamentals, according to JPMorgan. Business will likely remain slow because of restrictions on visas and transportation, and Chinese players are probably unwilling to travel at this point, analysts led by DS Kim wrote in a note Monday.

Sands China President Wilfred Wong told Cable TV he expects few customers when casinos first re-open, and believes it will take two-to-three months before business can return to normal.

Macau closed casinos for a 15-day period that began Feb. 5, in the longest shutdown ever for the world’s biggest gambling hub. MGM said it’s losing $1.5 million a day in Macau, while Wynn Resorts Ltd. said it is losing about $2.5 million a day.

Macau, which has reported 10 confirmed coronavirus cases, hasn’t found new infections for 13 straight days, officials said in the briefing.

Source: Bloomberg