Macau casino takings plunge record 88% after virus closures

The gaming sector accounts for 80 percent of Macau's government revenue (AFP Photo/Eduardo Leal)

Macau (AFP) - Macau's casino industry suffered its worst monthly downturn on record in February after city-wide closures aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The former Portuguese colony took the unprecedented step in early February of shutting much of its lucrative entertainment sector for two weeks -- including casinos, nightclubs and many bars.

Takings for the month plunged 87.8 percent from the previous year, according to figures released by gaming authorities late Sunday.

Macau has recorded only 10 COVID-19 infections and has not detected any new cases for almost a month.

The vast majority of the 35 million tourists visiting each year are mainland Chinese drawn to the city's casinos.

Arrivals have plummeted since the outbreak began, with visitor numbers one-fifth of usual levels.

Still, observers expect the former Portuguese colony would bounce back.

"We do not think COVID-19 will curb gamblers' enthusiasm... so its impact on the industry’s sustainable earnings power should be limited," JPMorgan Chase analysts said in a note.

Macau's government has been keen to ensure casinos keep on staff through the downturn and avoid lay-offs.

But while authorities allowed gaming venues to reopen on February 18, they said operators concerned about low tourist numbers could apply to remain closed for another month.

Officials have ordered all gamblers and casino staff to wear face masks.

First found in the city of Wuhan in central China, the new coronavirus has infected nearly 80,000 people on the mainland and 98 in Hong Kong.

It has also killed nearly 3,000 on the mainland and two in Hong Kong.

The only other time Macau's casinos closed their doors was in 2018 when the city was hit directly by a typhoon.

Macau depends almost entirely on gaming revenue, raking in more in a single week than Las Vegas makes in a month.

The local government has tried to diversify -- promoting Macau as a tourism and culinary destination -- but the gaming sector still accounts for 80 percent of government revenue.

Gaming stocks fell slightly on Monday, with Sands China down 0.7 percent and Galaxy Entertainment down 0.6 percent on the Hong Kong bourse.

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this story --