Macau Orders Casinos To Close in Virus Outbreak Response

Macau, the gambling and tourism enclave on China’s southern flank, has ordered the temporary closure of all its casinos. The move is a response to the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The disease, which started in Wuhan, China, has caused 427 deaths worldwide, with the latest reported Tuesday morning in Hong Kong. Macau, which like Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, has so far reported 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The latest case involves a gaming industry employee.

The closure was announced Tuesday afternoon by Ho Iat-seng, Macau’s chief executive, who only took office in December. He announced that casinos would be closed for an initial two weeks, but said that they may remain mothballed if the virus continues to spread.

“This is a difficult decision, but we have to do it, for the health of our Macau residents,” Ho said at a news conference. The Inside Asia Gaming trade publication described the move as a “bombshell.”

A second press conference is due to be held later in the day, providing further details of how and when the closures will happen. Many of the casinos are also vast hotel, entertainment and conference facilities, known as integrated resorts. Closing the hotels as well as the gaming facilities would be a massive upheaval.

The tiny territory has a population of some 631,000, but last year welcomed 35 million visitors to its 41 casinos. While Macau has attempted to diversify away from gambling, notably through the establishment of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao, its casino gambling industry is vast.

Gross revenues from Macau’s casinos are estimated to be four times greater than those of Las Vegas. But visitor numbers were down by approximately 80% last week, the normally busy Chinese New Year holiday season, as mainland Chinese citizens found it harder to travel and exit permits were restricted.

Macau has not cut its land border with mainland China. But Ho said that he was prepared to close some checkpoints.

At the end of 2019, Macau had 41 casinos, 22 of which owned by Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, six by Galaxy Casino, five by Venetian Macau, two by Wynn Resorts (Macau), four by Melco Crown (Macau) and two by MGM Grand Paradise. Together they operate a total of 6,739 gaming tables and 17,009 slot machines, according to the Macauhub web site.

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