Casino Closures, Countermeasures, and Confusion as Southeast Asia Faces Covid-19 Surge

  • Number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Malaysia has risen past India’s on a per capita basis
  • Nationwide lockdown in Malaysia has led Resorts World Genting to temporarily close its doors
  • Marina Bay Sands Singapore remains open after successfully mass testing its staff for COVID-19
  • Mixed messages come from the Philippines about which, if any, casinos are open in Metro Manila
  • Macau’s six casino operators are incentivizing staff to get shots via cash sums, draws, days off
map of Southeast Asia
From shutdowns to mass staff testing, casinos in Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines are reacting in a variety of ways amid a COVID-19 spike in Southeast Asia. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Coronavirus cases spike across region

A sharp spike in COVID-19 cases from new variants in Southeast Asia has prompted a variety of reactions from casinos in the region – with Macau also taking heed – in the face of government mandates.

The largest casino complex in Malaysia, Resorts World Genting (RWG), issued a message on its website on Monday stating that “following the government’s announcement on the nationwide total lockdown, RWG will be temporarily closed until further notice.” According to a Monday Reuters report,

The number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Malaysia has soared past India’s on a per capita basis.” 

The casino, located within the RWG complex near the capital Kuala Lumpur, was itself already closed from May 24 under the Malaysian government’s movement control order. Ongoing pandemic-related interruptions have seen Genting Malaysia Bhd, the promoter of RWG, backtrack the opening of its new outdoor theme park, Genting SkyWorlds, from the second to the third quarter of 2021.

Mass staff testing in Singapore

Over on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in Singapore, the integrated casino resort Marina Bay Sands Singapore remains open after embarking on mass testing of its staff following two of its workers testing positive for COVID-19.

On its debut in 2010, the resort located in the Downtown Core district of Singapore was known as the world’s expensive standalone casino property. Owned by holding brand Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the Marina Bay Sands casino has four levels of gaming floor space and over 2,300 slot machines.

According to a Marina Bay Sands official release, the casino was temporarily closed “for deep-cleaning from 17 to 19 May” after two employees tested positive. Between May 21 and 26, 7,450 “team members as well as 800 contractors” underwent tests for the virus, with all resulting negative.

The casino, which reopened at 4pm on May 19, currently allows only two patrons per gaming table.

Uncertainties in the Philippines

East across the South China Sea in the Philippines capital Manila, according to a report by Inside Asian Gaming, all Metro Manila casinos are closed until June 15 under a General Community Quarantine mandate issued by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Manila’s integrated resorts reportedly “are permitted to welcome invited guests.”

Mixed messages, however, seem par for the course in Metro Manila. On May 28, GGRAsia quoted Philippine gaming regulator PAGCOR as saying Manila casinos are “currently allowed to operate at limited capacity.” The regulatory body did not supply dates when casinos could resume operations, which casinos “had taken up the option”, or what capacity limits applied.

The news website also stated it had approached Entertainment City resorts – City of Dreams Manila, Okada Manila, Resorts World Manila, and Solaire Resort and Casino – for clarity on whether their casinos were operational, with no response forthcoming.

Macau casinos following Nevada’s lead

Outside the Southern Asian region in the Chinese gaming hub of Macau, reports of new COVID-19 cases in the neighboring mainland China province of Guangdong are not falling on deaf ears.

Macau’s six casino operators are rallying behind the local government’s push to boost the inoculation rate. Sands China Ltd, Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, Wynn Macau Ltd, and SJM Holdings Ltd are planning to accommodate an outreach vaccination station throughout June. MGG China Holdings Ltd reportedly broke the ice by setting up a vaccination site at MGM Cotai casino resort between May 24 and 25.

Echoing incentives successfully rolled out by industry counterparts in Nevada, the six Macau casino companies are offering sweeteners to encourage staff to take the needle. These range from straight cash, special draws, days off, and other holiday benefits.

too early to tell if the COVID-19 cases in mainland China “would affect Macau’s travel trade in the summer months of July and August”

Macau Travel Industry Council president Andy Wu Keng Kuong and an investor in Macau casino resort Ponte 16, Hoffman Ma Ho Man, believe it is still too early to tell if the COVID-19 cases in mainland China “would affect Macau’s travel trade in the summer months of July and August.”

Casino operators in Macau will keep a close eye on developments while riding a wave of optimism. I February, the gambling hub posted a gross gaming revenue uptick for the first time since September 2019.