The good news is that Macau’s gambling scene appears to be headed in the right direction, with increases in gross gaming revenue (GGR) and run rates being reported in April. The bad news, though, is that it seems like the increases are bringing with them the return of certain bad elements, as the number of suspicious transactions is also on the rise. Following the 80% decline in GGR last year, Macau is hoping for a quick recovery this year but will have to figure out how to keep the criminal activity to a minimum.
Daily Casino Action on the Rise in Macau
Analysts with JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific), DS Kim, Derek Choi and Livy Lyu, pointed out earlier this week that the GGR run-rate for April 12-18 was $37.5 million per day in Macau, making it “one of the highest non-holiday readings post COVID-19.” The analysts further revealed that the GGR across the first 18 days of the month was $687.5 million for a daily average of $35 million. This was slightly better than the $32.5-$33.75 million seen in recent months. Macau began seeing an improvement in GGR as the new year began, but the forward progress has been slow.
Vitaly Umansky, Kelsey Zhu and Louis Li, analysts with the Sanford C. Bernstein brokerage, echoed the positive sentiment, adding that visitation has reached its highest level in 15 months. On April 16, Macau saw 34,252 visitors pass through its borders, but the analysts caution that it’s too early to start celebrating. They expect the full-month GGR to be 60% of what it was in April 2019 and added, “Macau should continue to experience headwinds during first-half 2021, but we see strong GGR improvement beginning in the second half as [COVID-19]-related travel constraints begin to fall away.”
Increase in Gaming Brings Increase in Crime
Last year, when Macau became a veritable ghost town due to the coronavirus pandemic, criminals that used to make a living loansharking or helping certain individuals bypass finance controls had to find new ways to earn a living. Gaming-related crime fell significantly in 2020, almost following the same pattern of decline as the city’s GGR. As 2021 has begun to see a rebound by Macau’s gambling scene, however, the return of the criminal component is being seen, as well.
The Financial Intelligence Office of Macau reported this week that the number of suspicious financial transactions reported in the first quarter of the year was up by 7.92% over the same period last year. Of those, 55.3% were made by the city’s gaming operators, which was slightly lower than the 58.7% they reported in the first quarter of 2020. Criminals have been diversifying their efforts, targeting “other institutions and insurance firms” to conduct their activity. The number of suspicious transactions reported in these segments increased by 8.3% in the quarter.