No Appetite for Hurting Macau Casino Cash Cow: Vickers

The relevant local authorities would “not want to destabilise” the Macau casino sector, given that it was a “veritable cash cow”. So said the “2019 Asia Risk Assessment Report” from Hong Kong-based Steve Vickers and Associates Ltd, published on Thursday, in reference to the eventual refreshment process of Macau’s existing gaming concessions.

But the report added that “spiralling tensions” between the U.S. and China over trade “could spur Macau to dilute U.S. casinos’ sectoral dominance, not least given the links between the gaming tycoons and the Republican Party,” an entity represented by sitting U.S. President, Donald Trump.

The latter reference was to the fact that three of Macau’s six gaming licensees are majority-owned by U.S. companies.

A number of investment analysts has mentioned recently the potential risk to licence refreshment posed by geopolitics, given that the current Macau licences expire on dates in either 2020 or 2022.

“Current thinking is that the government will want to extend the [2020-expiring] concessions until 2022, so as to deal with them all at once; such a move would buy time. Little else is manifest,” said the Vickers report.

It added, referring to the current Macau Chief Executive, Fernando Chui Sai On, who completes his second and final term in office at the end of this year: “Fernando Chui promised some insights into policy in mid-2018, but has since kept his own counsel.”

The report suggested: “The Macau government might call for Chinese companies to buy into, or take over, existing [casino] businesses, or might simply refuse to grant a new right to current concessionaires.”

No candidates as successor to Mr Chui have yet been announced. But Ho Iat Seng, president of the Legislative Assembly, has been widely touted as a possible front-runner.

“Ho [Iat Seng], should he become chief executive, could espouse such a move,” suggested the assessment, adding he had been a leading exponent of what the consultancy referred to as “sinification” in Macau.

The report further noted:” Macau’s gross domestic product growth has diminished of late, to about 6.8 percent in 2018, owing to softer domestic demand in China. The government is also trying to shift away from casino revenues, so as to meet Beijing’s demands for diversification.”

The document added: “The Macau government will thus appraise both the economy and geopolitics when taking any decision,” on the future of the gaming permissions and gaming industry.