HONG KONG -- Casinos in Macao took a beating in 2019 after a few winning years as the demonstrations in nearby Hong Kong scared tourists off.
Fading economic momentum in China also kept high-rolling mainlanders from trying their luck.
Gross revenue from so-called games of fortune slid 3.4% on the year to 292.5 billion pataca ($36.6 billion) for the first annual decline in three years, data from the Macao government shows. December revenue plunged 13.7% in a continuation of weakness since January 2019, when monthly numbers began falling for the first time in around two and a half years.
Revenue from mass-market customers increased a solid 11%, according to Morgan Stanley. But revenue dropped a fifth for VIPs, who supply about 40% of the total.
Casinos depend heavily on customers from the mainland, who make up 70% or so of all visitors to the former Portuguese colony. Many mainlanders visit Macao and Hong Kong on the same trip, but months of Hong Kong protests took their toll.
Pressured to find income sources beyond gaming, casino operators are exploring new strategies, including luring families with upgraded resort features and theaters. SJM Holdings and Galaxy Entertainment Group are to open new facilities as early as 2021.
These companies are also setting their sights on the brand-new market of Japan, which has legalized integrated resorts. Galaxy and Melco Resorts & Entertainment have set up shop there to prepare for potential bidding.
Macao players' fortunes may turn around. VIP revenue in the gaming hub will gradually pick up, Morgan Stanley said, predicting a 2% increase overall in revenue for 2020. Improved mass transit, such as the December opening of a new light-rail line, will also help lift mass-market revenue, it said.