What Happened When They Reopened Casinos in Macau?

Yes We're Open Sign With a Macau Background

If you want to know what the future looks like for major casino destinations, you can find precedents based on how things have been handled in Macau.

In fact, Macau has stolen the title of gambling capital of the world from Vegas, anyway. In this post, I look at what’s changed in the casinos since they closed because of COVID-19 and subsequently reopened.

My hope is that it will give you some insight into what to expect from casinos such as those in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

Macau: Before, During, and After

Macau closed its casinos for two weeks to deter coronavirus infections. The casinos were closed from February 2nd and didn’t reopen until February 19th.

What did that do to business?

The average number of visitors to Macau dropped dramatically. In 2019, you saw an average of 750,000 visitors per week. After reopening, and even with new safety measures in place, Macau was only seeing 50,000 visitors a week. That’s a reduction of over 93%.

To increase social distancing, the casinos in Macau shut down half their tables.

You can’t get into a Macau casino without taking a mandatory test conducted by the health bureau. You’re required to make a personal declaration that you’re in good health. They also take your temperature and require you to wear a face mask while you’re on the gaming floor.

Casino Floor in Macau

Even if you’re just taking a bus or a cab, you’re required to wear a face mask. And if you’re a tourist from certain countries with high infection rates, you’re required to spend two weeks in quarantine before being allowed to enter a casino:

You’re also not allowed to gather in groups while standing in the casino.

Playing baccarat is the bread and butter for Macau casino gamblers, and they’ve made changes to that game, too. Instead of seating seven people per table, they’re only seating a maximum of four players at the tables.

The Effects of the Casino Closures on the Macau Economy

Most of the money in Macau comes from its thriving casino economy. The Macau locals, almost 600,000 of them, aren’t leaving their homes.

To try to encourage spending and stimulate the local economy, the Macau government has given pre-loaded debit cards with $327 each to spend at casinos and other local businesses.

Macau has 41 casinos, and many other businesses there depend on them for their revenue. With the restrictions on tourists, you can bet that this has had a major effect on the local economy.

Over 80% of the country’s economy comes directly from the casino gambling there.

What is the current situation costing the casinos? They’re saying it’s costing between $1.5 and $2 million every day just to keep up with their ongoing obligations and payroll expenses.

How Macau Casinos Have Managed Their Reopenings

Most of the casino resorts in Macau didn’t reopen all at once. They reopened in phases.

The government required the casinos to reopen fully over a 30-day period. It’s as much about demonstrating the stability of the country and its businesses as it is about revenues.

Business and traffic to the casinos will remain slow for some time, too. They’re expecting the casinos to see a drop in business of between 50% and 80%, which is expected to slowly improve week by week as casinos start attracting more gamblers.

They’ve seen no major spikes of coronavirus since the 4th of February, and Macau has seen only a small amount of cases of coronavirus total. This is dramatically different from what’s been happening on the mainland, where many more people have gotten sick and have died.

Front of Grand Lisboa Palace Macau

Casino gambling isn’t legal anywhere else in China, and Macau isn’t really in China, anyway, it’s a former Portuguese colony that has now become a “special administrative region.”

90% of Macau’s gamblers are tourists from China proper.

Some of the new casinos in the works in Macau will see delayed openings, too.

  • Galaxy’s Phase III
  • Sands’ Londoner
  • SJM’s Grand Lisboa Palace
They’re even quarantining construction workers from mainland China, which is causing delays, as well as many of Macau’s workers live on the mainland. That’s 60% of the workforce.

And even though they’ve reopened casinos, some other bars, clubs, restaurants, and attractions in Macau still remain closed for business.

Hotels are open, but occupancy rates are atrociously low compared to last year.

The government has agreed to spend $3.4 billion to help get the economy rolling again, but with so much of the economy relying on casino gambling and tourists, it might not be enough to have a big effect.

After all, most of the businesses in Macau rely on the casino gambling economy. For example, bus drivers and taxi drivers don’t make any money if they don’t have tourists to shuttle back and forth.

Many local business owners and managers think it will take at least three or four months to see anything like a real recovery in the local economy.

The Health Bureau Is Watching

The Health Bureau in Macau is monitoring the casinos’ compliance with the new guidelines. You can expect the corresponding organizations around the world to be doing the same thing.

Man Wearing Facemask in Front of Casino Lisboa Macau

How are the casinos in Macau doing with compliance?

The Health Bureau has found over two dozen violations, mostly having to do with the arrangement of the gaming tables and the distance between seats. Another common violation had to with requiring the dealers and gamblers to wear their masks.

Of the 41 casinos in Macau, at least 38 of them have reopened.

Conclusion

Knowing what happened when they reopened the casinos in Macau gives us some insight into what’s in store for the many other casinos around the world that have yet to reopen. You can expect much smaller crowds for one thing, as the businesses ramp back up.

You can also expect strict standards related to entry. In Macau, they’re taking temperatures and asking people to make declarations that they’re in good health. They’re also quarantining people from specific geographic locales.

You’ll almost certainly see similar measures being taken in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. In fact, people from hot spots like Louisiana and New York City might not be allowed to enter casinos until after a two-week quarantine period.

Social distancing like they’ve done in Macau is also almost certainly in the future for the major casino destinations in the United States.

Will we ever reach a point where casinos are back to the same strength as before COVID-19? That remains to be seen.