The future of casino industry

Oliveira says Macau has high autonomy when it comes to gaming policy

A former commissioner for legal affairs for the Gaming Commission said that, contrary to popular belief, Macau does have a say in the formulation of the SAR’s own gaming policies.

Jorge Costa Oliveira, founder and CEO at JCO Consultancy, made the remark during a webinar organized yesterday by the France Macau Chamber of Commerce at which a panel of three commentators sat in front of cameras to discuss Macau’s future in the casino industry.

Oliveira – who is also a regular MDT contributor – admitted that, in many people’s minds, Macau, as a special administrative region of China that is very much dependent on the Central Government, does not have much fighting power against the instructions or directives from Beijing. However, he said that this was not completely true, at least not when it comes to gambling and casinos in the MSAR.

The commentator said that, given that the topic is almost a taboo in mainland China and must be handled with exceptional delicacy, officials in the north did have occasion to ask Macau officials and experts about gambling policies.

“They would ask the implementation of certain policies to be explained or justified,” Oliveira said, adding that the background for certain policies might also be questioned. “In gambling, it’s not defined by Beijing. Macau has leeway to act [independently].”

When discussing the attractiveness of Macau to foreigners, Oliveira thought that Macau has never been a first choice for gamblers from outside greater China. He recalled that there used to be rich gamblers from Southeast Asia coming to Macau casinos, but that they have more recently been attracted to Australia, where junkets offer better deals.

When asked by the Times to comment on shows and concerts that had helped diversify the source of tourists and cultivate skilled workers in the industry, another panelist, Alidad Tash, managing director at 2NT8, curtly declared that Macau “had no entertainment.”

“The only two entertainments were Zaia and the House of Dancing Water,” Tash said, adding that it was tough for the industry to continue to thrive because the government has been slow in issuing migrant worker IDs to facilitate external professionals to work legally for short-term projects.

Another commentator, Vitaly Umansky, managing director and senior analyst at AB Bernstein, said that concerts and shows would not appeal to day-trippers, which make up a significant proportion of Macau’s tourist count.

“No day-tripper will sacrifice two hours in their single-day trip to watch a show,” he commented, adding that Macau must extend tourists’ stays in order to incorporate more shows, concerts and non-gambling elements.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, resorts used to bundle round-trip ferry tickets with concert tickets to attract people from Hong Kong to the shows. In addition, many concert-goers make same-day visits to Hong Kong from other Greater Bay Area cities just to watch a concert featuring local stars such as Hins Cheung and Sammi Cheng.

During the concluding part of the webinar, all three commentators expressed their optimism that Beijing would allow casinos to remain legal in Macau at least until 2049.

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