COVID-19 is a public health and economic catastrophe. It’s also a disaster for the Asian gaming and IR industry. When we can finally get our industry going again, it will effectively be a full relaunch.
Business is down 100% in the Philippines, where the IRs are closed, and will be down 100% in Singapore by tonight (7 April), by which time both IRs will be closed.
Macau is the only IR jurisdiction in Asia still open, but business is down around 90% due to two mandatory 14-day quarantines: the first in one of 11 Macau quarantine hotels for arrivals from anywhere in the world that isn’t mainland China, and the second in Zhuhai for arrivals from Macau. The latter results in no one from mainland China wanting to enter Macau.
Considering non-staff variable costs, Macau IRs might actually improve their bottom lines if the government allowed them to close the doors. Which isn’t happening.
Is it simply a case of Asia’s IR companies collectively continuing to burn tens of millions of US dollars every day until this is all over? Or is there some kind of solution?
Solution 1: Online gaming
In the Inside Asian Gaming March issue, Macau lawyer Carlos Eduardo Coelho from MdME argues that Macau authorities should consider allowing online gaming. Online gaming is referenced and defined under Law 16/2001 (the Macau Gaming Law). The Macau government has not granted online gaming concessions, but there is no law stopping this. Why not grant this to the existing land-based concessionaires, just as we have seen in New Jersey?
Solution 2: Regulated proxy betting
Ok, this idea is kind of out there, but hear me out. Macau used to allow proxy betting, until the DICJ stamped it out. In order to recoup lost taxation revenue, could proxy betting be allowed to return? What about KYC and AML I hear you ask? Simple, players go to lounges in mainland China run by the concessionaires and everything is done above board, with IDs and player cards. All cash and gaming equipment remains in Macau and the player watches streaming video. A day at the lounge counts as if it were spent in Macau for visa purposes.
Solution 3: Macau IR “free trade zones” in mainland China?
Ok, this idea is really out there, but this is a brainstorming exercise. Authorities in mainland China know Chinese citizens play in legal casinos in Macau – but they control the spectrum of playing opportunity through visas. But, once a visa is issued, why does the player actually have to come to Macau? Imagine small Macau “free trade zones”, say on the outskirts of major mainland China cities, with miniature versions of Macau properties, run by Macau concessionaires. Going there would legally count as a trip to Macau. And there is a precedent for mainland soil being repurposed to the SAR – the University of Macau on Hengqin.
Food for thought.