how mature is the Macau gambling market today?

A Hurricane Sandy note:  Still no internet at home–no sign of Comcast, either.  I’ve been using my phone as a mobile hot spot, but today Verizon failed as well.  Hence the late post.


We have some indirect evidence from the recent actions of the Macau government, which has been especially careful to pace growth of casino operations in the SAR in order to avoid overcapacity.  The authorities have approved a total of five big new casino development plans for the Cotai area, with completion scheduled over the next three-five years.  That’s on top of projects already under way.  But although I think trust in the good sense of the government is justified by its behavior over the past decade, that’s a particularly slim reed to depend on in making an investment.

…not so much

a.  visitation

Luckily, there’s a substantial amount of tourist data compiled by the Macau Statistics and Census Service available to us.  The information below summarizing the casino penetration of various Chinese provinces is MSCS data that I’ve taken from the 3Q12 Las Vegas Sands quarterly earnings report.  I’ve reorganized the presentation a bit.

Over the 12 months ending September 30th,  11 million visitors came to the SAR from other parts of China.  Let’s assume they all came to gamble.

Guangdong:  Of that number, 8.1 million, or 74% came from neighboring Guangdong province.  Guangdong has a population of 104 million, so the number of visitors (I don’t think it matters that many people will have come more than once) equals 8% of the population.  The number of visitors from Guangdong grew over the past year, but by only 4%.

the rest:  Macau also draws from other provinces in eastern China, whose population totals 262 million, or 2.5x that of Guangdong. The number of visitors from those provinces last year amounted to 1.1% of their populations.  The visits break out as follows:

Hunan, 66 million people, 596,000 visits, 27% year on year growth

Zhejiang, 54 million people, 608,000 visits, 11% yoy growth

Fujian, 37 million people, 877,000 visits, 4% growth

Chongqing, 29 million people, 201,000 visits, 36% yoy growth

Shanghai, 23 million people, 422,000 visits, 11% yoy growth

Beijing, 20 million people, 426,000 visits, 14% yoy growth

Tianjin, 13 million people, 130,000 visits, 47% yoy growth.

The province that jumps out at me is Fujian, just to the northeast of Guangdong.  It seems to be showing the same flattening out of visitor growth seen with Guangdong, but at a visitation level  = 3% of the population vs. 8% in Guangdong.

If we think that the non-Guangdong provinces listed above will reach maturity at the Fujian level of 3%, then those provinces will yield another 5 million or so visitors over the next few years before growth flattens out.  That would imply close to 50% growth in visitors for the Macau gambling market before the industry would need to look to the other 2/3 of China for growth.

If we thought that Fujian is outlier of some sort, and Guangdong is a better model, then the non-Guangdong provinces could yield up another 17-18 million visitors, almost tripling the current size before the casinos have to look for new gamblers in the 2/3 of China Macau doesn’t yet service.

As with most things, the truth of the matter is probably somewhere in the middle.

One other note about the visitor numbers.  To some degree, the number of gamblers who come to Macau is a function of the amount of casino space available for them to use.  Until the past six months, the market seems to me to have been capacity constrained.  If so, the visitation numbers and growth rates we’re using could be uncharacteristically low.

In addition, the 12 months ending in September represent the worst period of the current post-Great Recession slowdown–another reason to think that the current visitation numbers represent less than the growth the market will see in coming years.

b. spending

Market revenue growth is a function of both the number of gamblers and of the amounts that they bet.  Growth in visitors over the past year was just under 5%.  But the amount won by the casinos over the same period was up about 15%, implying the average visitor bet 10% more than in the prior year.

In my experience, this makes sense.  The average amount bet in a given market rises in line with nominal GDP.  There’s no reason this should change.

c. adding a + b

If the number of visitors rises by 5% per year on average and the amount spent goes up by 10%, then the Macau market will experience 15% annual revenue growth.  If so, five years from now the number of visitors will still represent much less than 3% penetration of the six non-Guangdong, non-Fujian markets listed above.  And gambling revenue in the SAR will have doubled in size.  I think that’s a bare minimum.

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