Macao is one of the largest gambling centers in the world – Copyright AFP/Eduardo Leal Archive
Macau said on Saturday that it has renewed the licenses of its six main casino operators, and the city is eyeing terms that help diversify its economy away from gambling.
The former Portuguese colony is the only territory in China where casinos are allowed and grants just six operating concessions for a multibillion-dollar industry that, until the pandemic hit, was bigger than Las Vegas.
The six current operators, including subsidiaries of Las Vegas giants MGM, Wynn and Sands, had submitted renewal applications, but a company linked to Malaysian gaming and resort giant Genting challenged the longstanding oligopoly with a surprise offer.
However, that attempt failed, as Macau’s leader Ho Iat-seng announced that provisional concessions had been granted to existing license holders.
“The development of non-gaming businesses is the most important factor” in the government’s decision, Andre Cheong, Macau’s administration and justice minister, told reporters.
It did not provide details on which license holders should invest and where.
The government said it will negotiate the details with the six operators and that the new licenses will take effect early next year.
Macau has always been interested in branching out of gambling into tourism and entertainment.
The city’s casinos were hit by pandemic-era restrictions that scared away players from mainland China, who made up the vast majority of patrons.
“The source of our tourists is too concentrated,” Cheong said on Saturday, describing the situation as “unhealthy.”
Gross revenue from the game fell 98 percent from pre-pandemic levels and dipped to a record low in July, officials previously announced.
– Scrutiny and reform –
Even if the pandemic measures are fully lifted, Macau’s casinos are unlikely to return to their more exciting and free days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign that has seen increased scrutiny from high rollers and officials who travel to gamble in Macau, where money laundering cases are common.
For decades, Macau’s gaming industry was run as a monopoly by casino magnate Stanley Ho, but in 2002 more operators were hired and 20-year concessions were issued as part of a liberalization effort.
In January, authorities reduced the period for granting gaming licenses to 10 years and unveiled regulations seeking to increase local ownership and government oversight.
Those factors did not deter the offer from GMM, a company controlled by Malaysian tycoon and Genting chairman Lim Kok Thay.
Best known for its resort in the Malaysian highlands, Genting also operates in Las Vegas and Singapore. She endorsed a ski resort in China that hosted this year’s Winter Olympics.