Macau casinos suffer worst year amid anti-graft push

Macau casinos suffer worst year amid anti-graft push

HONG KONG - The world's gambling capital Macau saw its first annual decline in casino revenues in 2014, figures showed Friday, with a corruption crackdown by the Chinese government ending a decade of booming growth for the industry.

Official figures published by the former Portuguese colony showed that gaming revenues fell 2.6 per cent year-on-year to 351.52 billion patacas (US$44 billion) in 2014 - the only decline since annual figures were first released in 2002.

Last month's takings were especially dire, plunging a record 30.5 per cent year-on-year to 23.285 billion patacas - marking a seventh consecutive month of decline and the biggest drop since the gambling hub began recording monthly revenues in 2005.

Barclays analyst Phoebe Tse said a high-profile corruption crackdown spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping was one of the main factors that had pushed down the territory's casino earnings in 2014.

"It has had a negative impact on the VIP playing sentiment significantly," she told AFP.

Macau is the only part of China where casino gambling is legal, and the industry is dependent on big spenders from the mainland.

But high-rollers have been reined in by the anti-graft drive, which has seen Xi vow to crack down on high-ranking officials - described as "tigers" - along with low-level "flies", in a campaign which includes curbing lavish spending.

The clampdown has wiped out about US$73 billion in market value of companies including Wynn Macau Ltd. and SJM Holdings Ltd. in the last year, Bloomberg reported.

A slowdown in the mainland economy has also been taking its toll on casino earnings.

Experts had predicted that growth in the VIP segment, accounting for two thirds of the total revenues of Macau's gaming industry, would be limited by the continued focus on corruption.

Beijing is also reported to be clamping down on illicit funds channelled from the mainland through its casinos.

Revenues hit a yearly record in 2013 at US$45 billion, official figures showed.

Xi, on a visit to Macau earlier this month, said the territory should diversify away from casinos.

Macau overtook Las Vegas as the world's casino capital in terms of revenue after the sector was opened up to foreign competition in 2002, and now enjoys gambling revenues multiple times that of the American city.

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