Macau casino revenue climbed 40 percent to a record in February, beating estimates, after a jump in mainland Chinese visitors to the world’s largest gambling hub during the Chinese New Year.
Casino revenue in the Chinese city rose to 38 billion patacas ($4.8 billion), exceeding the 36 billion patacas median of seven analyst estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The previous record was 36.5 billion patacas in October last year.
Casino operators such as Sands China Ltd. and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. have been adding shopping malls, entertainment shows and hotel rooms to draw mainland tourists to the former Portuguese enclave that has a population of about 600,000. More than 770,000 mainland Chinese visitors traveled to the city during the new year holidays from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, an increase of 23 percent from a year earlier, according to the Macau Government Tourist Office.
“Clearly, it’s evidence that there’s still pent-up demand to play from mainland customers,” said Philip Tulk, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Standard Chartered Plc. “Macau’s becoming a more accessible and realistic spot for visitation.”
Casino revenue rose 24 percent to 66.7 billion patacas during January and February, according to the gaming regulator. Standard Chartered’s Tulk said growth in the first two months exceeded his estimate for an 18 percent increase.
“Growth in March will slow due to the higher base,” Aaron Fischer, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CLSA Ltd., said in an e-mail. “The full-year outlook remains very positive, especially for the higher-margin mass market segment.”
Sands China fell 1.4 percent to HK$64 at the close in Hong Kong trading, while Galaxy Entertainment dropped 2.2 percent to HK$76.15. SJM Holdings Ltd. advanced 2 percent, while the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index slumped 1.5 percent.
Gambling revenue in Macau, the only place in China where casinos are legal, grew 7 percent in January, the slowest pace since October 2012, to 28.7 billion patacas. Six casino operators in Macau raked in $45.2 billion last year, about seven times that of the Las Vegas Strip.
Sands China Chief Executive Officer Edward Tracy expects gross gambling revenue in Macau will rise in the “mid-teens” this year, he said in an interview last month.
Casino operators such as Sands China, SJM and Melco Crown posted higher earnings in 2013, and improved rail connections, infrastructure and added hotel supply are expected to help draw more visitors to Macau.
Galaxy Entertainment more than doubled last year in Hong Kong trading, helping make billionaire founder Lui Che-woo Asia’s second-richest person. He has a net worth of $23.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Galaxy Entertainment is allowed to build 2 million square meters (21.5 million square feet) of gross floor area in Macau. The real estate is enough to quadruple its footprint, according to DS Kim, a Hong Kong-based analyst at BNP Paribas.