Macau’s top gaming stocks lost a record $US14 billion ($19.1 billion) in combined market value on Wednesday after officials said they would change casino regulations to tighten restrictions on operators, including appointing government representatives to “supervise” companies in the world’s biggest gaming hub.
The Bloomberg Intelligence index of the six big casino operators fell a record 19 per cent in trading Wednesday before slightly paring losses. American operators saw the worst sell-offs, with Sands China sinking as much as 28 per cent, while Wynn Macau plunged 34 per cent, both the steepest declines ever. Galaxy Entertainment Group slumped 18 per cent, its sharpest drop in a decade.
Officials in the enclave, the only place in China where gambling is legal, said they would begin a 45-day public consultation period on September 15 to discuss the legal revisions. Among the topics being covered: how many licenses — known locally as “concessions” — will be allowed, how long their terms will be, and the level of supervision by the government.
While license renewals have been expected for some time as the current ones expire next June, the move to tighten regulatory control took the industry by surprise. Besides appointing government representatives, the revisions also propose increasing local shareholdings of casino companies, without elaboration on how these moves will be enacted.
Dismay rippled through industry players and analysts after the announcement as China’s ongoing clampdown on sectors from gaming to after-school tutoring appears to have reached Macau at last.
“The casino issues are a continuation of what’s been a pretty big crackdown,” said Jason Ader, the chief executive officer of New York-based investment manager SpringOwl Asset Management and a former Las Vegas Sands board member. “There’s a debate over whether China is even investable right now. You never like to see increased regulation, increased taxes, restrained movement. That all seems to be the status quo.”
JPMorgan analyst DS Kim downgraded the six operators to sell or neutral weightings in a Wednesday research note. “We think this announcement would have already planted a seed of doubt in investors’ minds, which is probably enough to de-rate these names until clarity emerges on key points,” he wrote.
‘It’s sort of all going in the wrong direction in China. To the extent investors are nervous about China, Macau doesn’t feel like the place it was five years ago for a lot of reasons.’
Fund manager Jason Ader
The tightened scrutiny comes at a time when Macau is still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted the government to restrict travel, cutting off the economy’s lifeblood of Chinese punters. Gaming revenue for the month of August was 82 per cent lower than the same period in 2019.