Macau Casinos Hit by Travel Ban Amidst Wuhan Coronavirus Fears
When the Chinese government made the decision to lock down nearly 12 million people in the region of Hubei, at the center of the Coronavirus epidemic that started in Wuhan over a month ago now, many people expected the economic impact would be large and widespread.
Among one of the most precipitous falls so far is the Macau gambling industry.
Although the region is officially semi-autonomous and separate from the mainland, Macau casinos (and much of the local economy) rely on Chinese visitors for a significant percentage of their income.
Even though there are only seven cases and no deaths in the region so far (compared to a worrying 7,700 official cases and 170 deaths on the mainland), not many Chinese citizens are interested in visiting public areas and mass gatherings at the current time.
Uncertainty and Lockdown
At the moment, no-one can be certain of this virus’s seriousness, as the effects of the government’s containment efforts won’t be seen in the data for about two weeks—the longest known incubation period for any patient so far.
Should the lockdown and isolation efforts work well, we’ll likely see a rapid fall in new cases.
If that is not the case, then the world could be in for a new pandemic on the same level of severity as the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009 that infected nearly 100 million people.
This uncertainty has sent Macau’s operators tumbling in the markets, with Las Vegas Sands and Winn Resorts both seeing falls of 10% or more over the past fortnight.
Key figures in the industry are also taking this as a serious issue. Las Vegas Sands’ (LVS) President Rob Goldstein told reporters this week that the situation was “uniquely serious” and one he would be “foolhardy to ignore.”
And it will be hard to ignore for him, as visitor numbers to Macau casinos have seen almost an 80% slump over the past few weeks, by some accounts. This situation could continue for a while as a full ban on incoming flights from the Chinese mainland was announced on Tuesday.
LVS is one of the largest investors in the region. They are in the middle of a $2.2 billion renovation program across all their casinos.
Shut Up Shop
Some measures that have already been put in place to stop the spread of the virus in Macau include the cancellation of Chinese New Year festivities and the introduction of temperature screening devices at airports and outside casinos.
Ho Lat Seng, the current Chief Executive of the Macau region, suggested that casinos may be closed completely in the event of an escalation in cases in Macau (or globally).
“If the situation becomes that serious, no-one would want to go to a casino anyway,” he was reported as saying by Inside Asia Gaming. In the same speech, he announced the purchase of 20 million facemasks, which have been mandatory wear for casino staff in Macau for a few weeks.
Many in the region of southeast Asia were unhappy with their governments’ responses to the SARS epidemic of 2003, and legislators are reacting quickly this time so they can’t be accused of complacency again.
However, whether Macau casinos (who receive tens of thousands of visitors just from the city of Wuhan every year) will completely close during this difficult time remains up in the air.
Elsewhere in the region, gamblers in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands resort were shocked and concerned to find out that one of Singapore’s four confirmed cases at this point had stayed at an MBS hotel from the 23rd to the 24th.
All staff and guests received a letter on how to best protect against the new virus, including effective handwashing and wearing masks when in public, and high-traffic public areas are being disinfected hourly.
Further abroad in the gambling world, there’s currently one suspected case in Las Vegas county, although the Center for Disease Control pointed out that infection chances are minimal in the area right now as there are no direct flights from China to Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
The virus, known as NCov19 or the Wuhan Coronavirus, was first diagnosed nearly a month ago after several Chinese citizens contracted it from animal sources in a local wet market.
Among the few facts we know for certain is that the Wuhan Virus has similar symptoms to a bad cold or flu and can potentially be lethal for older people or those with pre-existing medical conditions.
We’ll keep you updated on how the situation affects gambling markets worldwide.