Macau’s Hopes of Gaming Rebound Hang in Balance as COVID Restrictions Return Yet Again

  • Staff, guests in the MGM Cotai are to stay inside until Nov 1 under new orders
  • All 70,000 Macau residents must now endure daily tests for COVID-19
  • China mainland residents can soon use an e-visa system to travel to Macau
  • The six Macau casino operators are now competing to acquire new licenses
Face mask
It’s Groundhog Day for Macau’s gaming industry as COVID-19 cases force the government to mandate daily tests for all residents and quarantine the MGM Cotai. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Handful of cases

Just as some optimism was beginning to grow around Macau’s casino industry, along comes a new COVID-19 case to throw a spanner in the works.

dealer from MGM China’s casino in Cotai, Macau, tested positive

According to The Straits Times, a dealer from MGM China’s casino in Cotai, Macau, tested positive for the virus over the weekend. This led authorities to place a lockdown order on the establishment on Sunday, with those inside not allowed out until Tuesday.

Macau-based gaming lawyer Carlos Lobo initially shared the news via Twitter, along with the mandatory requirement for all 700,000 residents of Macau to take daily rapid antigen tests until November 1:

Lobo’s facepalming emoji certainly sums up the mood for Macau casinos given that they have been at the mercy of China’s zero-COVID policy for more than 2.5 years now, costing millions of dollars each month.

Setback ahead of China boost

The return of curbs in Macau is another setback for industry executives and investors eyeing a quick return to healthy gambling revenues. Macau has spent the last three months free from coronavirus, leading the government to move forward with plans to reintroduce tourism to the area.

unclear if the latest positive COVID test will affect this plan

China’s immigration bureau confirmed on Monday that mainland residents could use an online visa system to travel to the Special Administrative Region starting from November 1. It is unclear if the latest positive COVID test will affect this plan.

The e-visa service, which was used pre-pandemic, allows Chinese visitors to make instant group bookings, instead of booking a visa appointment and waiting a week for approval. Macau CEO Ho lat Seng initially broke the news of the e-visa reinstatement in September.

Some added spice

To add an extra twist to the tale, the autonomous region’s six casino operators — Wynn Macau, SJM Holdings, Melco Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment, Sands China, and of course MGM China — are currently awaiting Macau’s decision on whether their expiring 2022 licenses will get renewed.

The result is not a given, with only six licenses on the table and the Genting Group upping the ante with a surprise license application.

The Straits Times cited Macau executives who confirmed a decision on the licenses could come “as early as this week.”