Masked and Monitored: Macau Casinos Slowly Re-Open After Coronavirus Fears
On February 20th, the Asian gambling hub of Macau re-opened the doors at many of its casinos for the first time since the ongoing coronavirus outbreak caused them to shutter up on February 4th.
Twenty-nine casinos opened their doors at exactly midnight on Wednesday, having been closed for just over two weeks. As expected, there weren’t huge queues outside—just a slow trickle of masked gamblers, who were all subject to temperature checks and mandatory declarations of health.
Although no new cases of the respiratory disease CoVid19, commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, have been recorded in the region since February 4th, Macau heavily relies on visitors from China to fill its casinos.
With China being the epicenter of the outbreak, and many cities, workplaces, and mass gatherings still under lockdown or suspension in the country, far fewer people than usual are thinking about holidays or gambling at this time.
To add to that, even if more people wanted to visit, many flights, train services, and other means of transportation remain suspended. For example, visitors from nearby Hong Kong can’t travel via ferry as the terminal there was closed weeks ago and remains so.
So far, the virus, which started in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, has killed 2,700 people and infected 80,000 more confirmed cases.
Ninety percent of these deaths have been in mainland China, although deadly outbreaks have been ongoing in Iran, Japan, Italy, and South Korea in the past few days. Other countries in the East Asia region, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, have so far seemingly kept a lid on transmission.
Sign of Stability
Even without many customers as of yet and fears of the virus definitely on the minds of most people in the region, the casinos re-opening is an encouraging sign.
Players remain segregated for the most part—for example, only three players are allowed per baccarat table, instead of the usual seven.
Chips and cards are disinfected during deck changes, and players are given alcohol gel to clean their hands with every few rounds. Extra workers have been brought in to observe players and ensure these precautions are followed.
“It is wise to open a little bit, even if business is slow. The government wants us to open because it signals a sign of stability for Macau,” an unnamed casino manager told Reuters shortly before the re-opening.
Officials in Macau have good reason to want the casinos to re-open, as up to 90% of revenues from their holiday resorts are brought in through their tables and machines.
The Special Administrative Region (along with Hong Kong, the two cities are known as SARs, which is coincidentally the name of a genetically similar virus to NCov19) relies heavily on the casinos for tax revenue.
Whilst efforts have been made to diversify the economy in recent years, many sectors like catering and hospitality indirectly rely on the casinos to bring custom, too.
And it’s not just casinos, either. Around the world, many businesses are expected to feel effects as this new virus spreads, and manufacturing output from China continues to dip.