Regulator Who Oversaw Macau Gaming Transformation to Retire

  • Manuel Joaquim das Neves was a civil servant over 30 years
  • City has seen sevenfold casino revenue growth in past decade

Macau’s lead casinos regulator will retire next month, after almost two decades where he oversaw the industry’s growth to the world’s largest as more Chinese became rich, and witnessed its sharp downturn last year as Beijing’s anti-corruption crackdown curbed high-stakes gamblers.

Manuel Joaquim das Neves, director of the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ), will step down on Nov. 25 after working as a civil servant for more than 30 years, according to a statement on the city government’s website. Wendy Wong, a DICJ spokeswoman, said the regulator has yet to find Neves’ replacement.

“In the context of Beijing seemingly pledging its support to Macau and to the gaming industry, we would not expect the transition to a new head of the gaming regulatory body to result in tougher times ahead” for the casino companies, said Grant Govertsen, an analyst at Union Gaming Group. 

Neves had led the regulator for 18 years, local broadcaster Teledifusao de Macau reported Wednesday, and cited him as saying he planned to focus on his family after retiring. During his tenure, Macau had seen gaming revenue jump more than sevenfold in a decade until last year when the industry began to slump as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign and a slowing economy kept away high rollers. 

Macau’s Transformation

Over the past two years, Macau’s government imposed restrictions on traveling by Chinese nationals, banned smoking at casinos, and tightened regulations over junket operators, the middlemen who bring in the high-end players.

Macau casino shares have suffered, falling 39 percent year to date compared with the benchmark Hang Seng index’s 3.3 percent decline. The stocks mostly rose Thursday, with MGM China Holdings Ltd. up 2.4 percent by the close of trading in Hong Kong, while Sands China Ltd. gained 1.8 percent and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. was up 0.6 percent.

Neves had witnessed the casino industry’s transformation in the former Portuguese colony, from a four-decade monopoly held by tycoon Stanley Ho to its liberalization since 2001 when the market opened up to foreign operators including Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. Since then, Macau’s gaming revenue grew to seven times as much as that of the Las Vegas Strip.

The industry is once again trying to remake itself, amid China President Xi Jinping’s call last December for Macau to diversify its economy to rid its over-dependence on gambling. Operators including Sands China, Wynn Macau Ltd. and Galaxy are spending $28 billion to build new casino-resorts in the next three years to draw more mass-market bettors, shifting away their attention from hard-core gamblers.

They are adding glitzy malls, restaurants and other non-gaming facilities as the government plans to diversify an economy that relies on gambling receipts for 80 percent of its revenue. Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. this week opened a $3.2 billion project with a Batman ride and Asia’s highest Ferris wheel.

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