This week marks the tenth anniversary of the real start of Macau’s gaming liberalization. The contracts that brought American casino operators Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands to Macau were signed in late June 2002.
Less than two years later, the first Vegas-style casino, Sands Macao, opened. Macau was on its way to becoming the world’s largest gaming destination, with more than five times the casino revenue of Las Vegas last year. Casino operators have pocketed billions in profits from their Macau operations.
It’s been an easy ten years since liberalization, but now Macau casinos face a difficult decade ahead. They must contend with increasing competition from other Asian gaming destinations and among themselves. There’s also uncertainty about the continued flow of players across the border from mainland China, by far Macau’s main market, as Beijing goes through a wrenching leadership change.
But most of all, the casinos must handle the uncertainty of license renewal. As I wrote in Asia Times, gaming concessions will expire by June 2022, giving the Macau government more leverage to demand more from the casinos now. There also a chance that licenses won’t be renewed for one or more of the current concessionaires, most likely an American one, and no clear timeline or guidelines on the criteria for renewal. For casinos, that adds up to a lot of gray hairs and brown noses in the decade ahead.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.