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Singapore Casino Revenues Sore as Chinese High-Rollers Lay Low

Nov 11, 2014 - by Monica Erdei
Singapore casino revenues have dropped significantly

Singapore casino revenues have dropped significantly

First, it was Macau that reported decreased gambling revenues due to a shrinking pool of big spenders, and now Singapore is dealing with the same problems.

As Chinese authorities started a campaign to crack down on corruption earlier this year, high-rollers are staying away from casinos. There are two glitzy casino resorts in the country and they both used to have special VIP tables reserved for their most loyal – and most generous – customers. Now they’re both struggling without them and things are beginning to get ugly between the two competitors.

The resorts are run by American casino operator Las Vegas Sands and Malaysia’s Genting Resorts. The former reported a 34% drop in VIP volume at its Marina Bay Sands resort, while the latter is expected to post a similarly painful slide in its third quarter financial report.

When combined, casino profits in Singapore reach $6 billion per year, and big spenders account for about half of this revenue. As gambling laws don’t allow casinos in China, players usually flee to destinations like Macau or Singapore. But in the first half of 2014, the number of Chinese visitors was down 30% to 871,000, and profits followed the same downward trend.

Business Insider: The Battle For Singapore’s Shrinking Pool Of High-Rolling Gamblers Is Getting Ugly

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, has accused its rival of offering overly generous incentives and credit to draw high-rollers to its Resorts World Sentosa.

During a company earnings call last month, Adelson said: “Maybe one day, they will get used to competing on the basis of a quality product, if they ever build one, and they won’t have to buy the business.”

Tan Hee Teck, president of Genting Resorts, admitted that the company’s casinos in Singapore will be facing some financial difficulties during the next few months or possibly even longer.

“I suppose some operators may not want to admit it, but at least from our side, we believe that the situation will continue to be quite challenging at least for the next 6 to 12 months,” he said.

Ever since they opened in 2010, these two casinos have been reporting billion-dollar revenues, mostly based on business brought in by Chinese high-rollers, a category of players which came to be vital to the success of these gambling venues.

In a note published on October 31, Fitch Ratings wrote: “Growth in Singapore gaming revenue has stalled, and is likely to contract slightly in 2014 with macroeconomic and political factors in China being the principal cause.”

TheStar: S’pore casinos brace for battle as VIP volumes fall

The two gambling venues in Singapore have been trying to rely less on casino revenue and push to earn more from entertainment, conference facilities, hotels and shopping. But even so, gambling brings in 80% of total profits for both Las Vegas Sands and Genting Resorts. They both boast profit margins of about 50%, the highest in the casino industry.

One way to lure more foreign high-rollers to a casino is to offer credit. With Singaporean players, this strategy doesn’t work because the state has set stricter rules for locals. Sometimes casinos also use commission, a small rebate on the amount of money they’ve spent.

Terence Tay, a former general counsel for Genting Singapore who now runs a consultancy explained: “Credit checks can be very fast for some gamblers – in 15 minutes or so you can probably get approval for US$1mil, and with US$1mil you can still roll up to US$8 or US$9mil.”

This plan sometimes backfires, as credit collection can turn out to be tricky. Singaporean casinos are already waiting on hundreds of millions of dollars to be repaid by gamblers who lost huge amounts of money. And the majority of these players are based overseas, so recovering the cash is even more difficult.

For Genting, “trade and other receivables” – which represents the money owed by customers – has seen a 61% rise since June 2012. In the quarter ending July 2014, player debt stood at S$1.2 billion. Total revenue has increased 7% in the same period.

Vicky Melbourne, head of industrials for South-East Asia and Australasia ratings at Fitch said: “What’s going to be the greater challenge to the Singapore operators, and certainly more longer-term, is that across the region, there’s a lot more political momentum to legalize casinos.”

The Straits Times: Luck running out for Singapore’s two casinos?

Earlier this year, UOB Kay Hian analysts have pointed out that Singapore’s casino market reached saturation in 2012. A year before that, total gaming revenue had reached a record amount of $7.92 billion; after that, it started to decline and went down 8.3% to $7.26 billion in 2012. It wasn’t until last year that casinos have started to recover, but the rebound was modest – just 3%.

Core earnings are also stagnating, with Marina Bay Sands earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) coming in at US$1.5 billion in 2013, compared to US$1.4 billion the year before. Net profit was higher during its second quarter, but VIP and mass-market business was declining.

For Genting Singapore, EBITDA dropped from $1.35 billion in 2012 to $1.15 billion in 2013. Analysts concluded the resort has reached its full growth potential. According to online gambling news, this was partially because of the local Government’s heavy regulation of the casino industry, which imposes a $100 entry fee for Singaporean players and punishes companies for marketing their services to locals.

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