The coronavirus that started in Wuhan, China, has hit hard the Macau casino business during the peak holiday season of the Lunar New Year.
That has led one gaming industry expert to say the ripple effect of the virus and fears of a pandemic, including quarantines and travel warnings and restrictions, should be a “wake-up call” for the Chinese government and casino interests throughout Asia that it is time to legalize online gambling.
The most interesting observation is as the coronavirus situation evolves is how the virus has pushed gamblers to illegal online gambling and the one market in Asia where online gambling is legal: the Philippines.
Daily online gambling is up 90% over the Lunar New Year holiday compared to last year. And that’s an unbelievable number, and it raises the issue of should land-based operators be converging around the world with online operators. That’s really the growing trend.
Online gambling is mostly unregulated in Asia and illegal in China.
Asia is still very much the Wild West, it’s very unregulated, but [the land-based operators] are not getting any business. The online operators and Philippines licensees are picking up most of these players. And we think it’s a wake-up call, not just in Asia but in the U.S. … The European companies are in leading positions.
Macau casinos are still open, but employees who interact with customers must wear masks, and they have detailed cleaning and hygiene in both front and back of the house. The chief executive of Macau has the option of closing these casinos if the outbreak intensifies.
Threats remain for casinos in other parts of Asia, including Singapore, where Las Vegas Sands has its biggest casino. Singapore had reported four infections of the coronavirus as of early Wednesday morning in Asia.
Governments in Asia should note that the trend in Europe and the U.S. is to legalize online gambling and implement higher taxes and more regulation.
One of the issues the Macau operators face in considering the issue of online gaming is that Macau has not become a general tourist destination like Las Vegas, which now generates significant non-gambling revenue.
The outlook for this Lunar New Year was not great, with expectations for business to be flat to slightly down. But it is the busiest period for casinos, and daily play can be double what is typical. Now you look around and casinos in Macau are sparse or closed, dealers are wearing masks.