Chui Vows to Rein In Gaming Growth

As Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On (l.) breezes to re-election, the priorities he’s unveiled for his second term don’t look so good for gaming. The industry’s growth needs to be curtailed, he said. The labor supply will remain protected, and labor costs are going to get more expensive for casinos.

Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On, who will be re-elected the end of this month unopposed, issued his policy platform for his second and final five-year term, saying the scale and speed of development of the gaming industry would be curtailed in the interests of a diversified economy.

Chui will be returned to office by an electoral commission comprised mainly of leading local business interests who are overwhelmingly pro-Beijing.

Regarding gaming, he said his next administration will control its growth and extend its supervision of it, which will include a review of the license renewals coming due on a staggered basis at the end of the decade.

Significantly, he pledged that no imported labor would be hired as dealers, a sore point with local residents, and said casinos will be expected to assume the responsibility of provide housing and transportation for their non-resident workers.

In addition, he said that the government would offer opportunities for gaming workers to obtain higher education in order to ensure more of them are advanced into the ranks of medium and upper management.

He said that the gaming industry in Macau has entered a period of adjustment from its previous rapid development, and the government will be more aggressive about promoting non-gaming and promote development of the MICE industry.

With regard to transportation, the government will control the numbers and routes of casino shuttle buses to ease traffic congestion, he said, and will also extend the supervision of taxis, which are in short supply in the city.

It is not clear whether Chui’s declaration on migrant housing is meant to assuage local residents concerned about soaring housing costs, but it has raised some concerns in the industry.

The shortage and cost of private-sector accommodation for Macau permanent residents has become a hot political issue. The city has an unemployment rate of only 1.7 percent and is hard-pressed to supply enough labor to run and sustain the current size of its casino industry, not to mention staff the six megaresorts coming on line on Cotai beginning next year, while at the same time ensuring the rest of the city’s businesses have enough workers.

Imported workers increased by 28.2 percent year on year to 155,310 at the end of June, according to officials figures, representing 39.8 percent of the city’s employed population.

Current housing rules oblige all local companies to provide accommodations to their migrant workers or pay them a monthly housing allowance of at least MOP500 (US$62.60). The amount was set in 2010 and has not been adjusted for inflation.

Were the government at this stage of the existing gaming concessions to require the six operators to build new homes for migrant workers, it could represent a significant and as yet unbudgeted capital cost.

Grant Bowie, chief executive of MGM China Holdings, said, “I think it’s quite complex, but we need to understand it. I think the issue still stands that Macau struggles with land. We also need to collaborate and understand where we should be building these types of facilities, if that’s the expectation.”

MGM’s casino concession expires in 2020, along with SJM Holdings’. The other four expire in 2022.