SJM’s quintessentially mass-market Casino Oceanus has moved into the VIP businessFriday, 23 September 2011
Casino Oceanus—probably the most mass-market focused of any of Macau’s gambling venues—has joined the VIP baccarat bandwagon. The property—directly owned and managed by SJM—has acquired a VIP room partner for the second floor of the property.
Given the modest income and demographic of typical Oceanus customers, it will take time for the casino to develop a name as a VIP destination. SJM has therefore set its junket room partner a relatively modest—by Macau standards—monthly rolling chip turnover target of HK$100 million (US$12.8 million). The junket partner—CCUE VIP—is confident it can meet and then beat that target as it ramps up operations at Oceanus.
The name ‘CCUE’ is a play on the Chinese phrase for ‘very good luck with everything’—pronounced ‘shì shì rú yì’. CCUE is chaired by U Io Hung. Mr U is a Macau businessman who was involved in developing AMA, the junket consolidation arm of Hong Kong-listed A-Max Holdings. AMA grew rapidly after it teamed with Crown Macau (now Altira Macau) to supply high rollers to the Melco Crown Entertainment property in exchange for a record-making 1.35% rolling chip commission back in late 2008. Mr U ended his involvement with AMA and A-Max in 2009 to pursue other business interests.
The Oceanus operation is part of an ambitious development programme for CCUE in a buoyant Macau high roller market. From this month CCUE will also operate a casino ship out of Hong Kong as a joint venture with the long-established Macau junket operator Jimei, run by Dr Jack Lam.
Back on dry land, CCUE has six tables on the second floor at Oceanus. That will soon be increased to 12. CCUE also has six VIP tables at the SJM-licensed L’Arc casino and six at Altira Macau. In early August—a month ahead of the company’s original schedule—it also opened six VIP tables at MGM Macau. In addition, Mr U has ambitions to expand into high roller operations beyond Greater China into Laos and Vietnam.
Businessman Tony Tong, Financial Advisor to CCUE, explained to Inside Asian Gaming the junket operator’s business proposition.
“Having more [room] locations provides choice for the VIPs. And VIPs do like to have choice. Having more venues and more tables also allows us to recruit more agents.
“Even though Casino Oceanus opened more than 18 months ago, it’s previously only offered cash games on its table games. Now in partnership with CCUE it’s offering credit facilities for VIPs.”
High stakes baccarat accounted for nearly 78% of Macau’s live table (i.e. exclusive of electronic games) gross gaming revenue (GGR) in July. No Macau casino or concessionaire can afford to turn away such business without risking under-performance relative to the market as a whole. And Macau gaming tables are precious assets. The government cap on the number of tables allowed in the market (5,500) between now and the beginning of 2013 means in effect that only those operators opening new properties (Galaxy at Galaxy Macau and Sands China at Cotai 5 and 6) are currently being allowed to add to their table inventory. It means the other four operators in particular must make their existing table assets ‘sweat’ that much harder. And in a VIP baccarat boom time, that may mean converting existing mass-market table inventory to VIP inventory, or bringing mothballed tables out for high roller use.
That’s why Casino Oceanus has become a surprise participant in the Macau VIP business. It doesn’t even have a hotel, and that’s normally considered the very minimum requirement a property needs in Las Vegas if it is to entice any high rollers through the door. In Macau, things are different. Most high rollers haven’t come for a holiday with some gaming. They’ve come for gaming—possibly with some perks thrown in. The players’ aim very often is to beat the house. And they’re not getting up from that table until they’ve either achieved it or been wiped out for that session. Then it’s off to the helipad, airport, ferry, sauna, restaurant or karaoke they go, often with their ‘comped’ luxury suite having acted as little more than a glorified changing room.
Casino Oceanus’ main virtue is that it’s only a three-minute walk by covered footbridge to the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal and heliport. It was originally conceived as a ‘bet and go’ emporium for day trippers or even half-day trippers from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. It’s for the most part cheap and cheerful, with (according to one of IAG’s sources) the cheapest beer to be found in any casino in town.
It has 32,000 square metres of gaming space over three floors housing more than 260 mass-market table games—with minimum bets typically set between HK$100 and HK$300—and more than 560 slot machines. But even with the care and expertise lavished on the property by the celebrated casino designer Paul Steelman, it looks like what it is—namely a converted department store with a new skin. It took just 15 months to convert, opening in December 2009 at a cost of HK$1.5 billion (US$193 million at current exchange rates).
Oceanus was originally conceived as a much grander and more expensive project by Paris-based architects Paul Andreu—with a sail-like roof visible from the sea as ferry passengers approached Macau’s Outer Harbour. But the global financial crisis of September 2008 put an end to that scheme and led to a major redesign costed at a quarter of the original US$799 million budget.
Mr Tong indicated that in line with a number of VIP rooms in SJM’s satellite casinos (those using an SJM gaming licence but not directly managed or owned by SJM) the Casino Oceanus VIP room is working on a profit share basis with its agents and host property rather than on a commission basis.
“We share most of our profit with the agents,” he explains.
“It’s a platform for everyone to make money. It’s the usual Macau structure for VIP marketing with master agent, sub-agent, and multiple levels of agents at grass roots level in China. But by offering a good platform in terms of profit share with the agents, we believe a lot of agents will come to us and we’re going to grow very quickly. It’s not about cutthroat business. It’s about growing together, which is a common approach to business generally in China and throughout Asia. There’s a lot of room for expansion.
“I think the [government] table cap has actually been good for us,” adds Mr Tong.
“The casino operators are now more careful about picking the most capable VIP investors and operators with the best network of agents to do the work. Right now—for this place [Oceanus] they didn’t just pick anybody; they picked someone they feel very confident with.”
SJM has set relatively modest rolling chip turnover targets for the Oceanus VIP room compared to turnover targets in other rooms in other venues. This is on the basis SJM has little to lose and much to gain by having VIP gaming at the formerly massmarket-only property.
“For every VIP table [in Oceanus] we need to meet a target set by the casino of HK$100 million total rolling chip turnover per month,” explains Tony Tong.
“We are very confident about this location and it’s a good spot. SJM is using this VIP room at Oceanus to counter the Sands [Macao] VIP offer. VIPs arriving at the ferry terminal or heliport and going to Sands Macao need to be picked up by car. Our VIPs only need to take a two- or three-minute walk. The head of Sands’ [Macao] VIP has been to look at us. Jimei at Grand Lapa [next door to Sands Macao] is a different market from us, with agents in different parts of China. There’s not too much overlap between Jimei and us.
“We’re essentially marketing to new players—including new players from Hong Kong as well as China. People tend to focus on China but we shouldn‘t forget that new wealth is still being created within Hong Kong—often by Hong Kong residents with business interests in China.”