Macau gambling: Chinese government eases visa restrictions
9/21/09 – One of the chief non-recession reasons for Macau's slowdown as a major Asian gambling centre has been the Chinese government's curbs on visas, seriously restricting the number of gamblers who could visit the gambling island off Hong Kong. The good news this week is that the restrictions have been "quietly eased", boosting operator and investor confidence.
The Reuters news agency reports that Chinese citizens traveling from the populous Guangdong province to Macau are having an easier time obtaining visas, sending casino stocks soaring Monday this week as industry executives bet on record October earnings as a result.
The Reuters report claims that the authorities were concerned that citizens were doing too much gambling, and consequently imposed new rules lst year limiting them to two trips a year to Macau.
Government officials apparently began easing up on the rule as early as two months ago, and noticeably loosened the restriction at the start of this (September) month.
"The latest version is (they can travel to Macau) once a month out of Guangdong," an anonymous casino executive told the news agency. "Gaming revenues for the first two weeks of the month have been good."
October holds the promise of further improvement; it is a high travel season for Chinese because of the October 1 Golden Week holiday, and could see record monthly casino revenues following the more relaxed travel restrictions.
Macau has rocketed on to the global gambling stage in recent years following reforms earlier this decade that saw an end to a previous monopoly and awarding of licenses to multiple players, boosting competition.
The market grew 57 percent in 2007 alone, fueled by a huge influx of mainland Chinese, who now make up about 65 percent of casino visitors.
Macau generated HK$105.6 billion ($13.5 billion) in gross gaming revenues in 2008, more than double the HK$46.7 billion generated by the Las Vegas Strip during the same period.
More recently a combination of travel restrictions and the global economic recession has seen Macau revenues slump 12.5 percent in the first half of 2009