Gambling revenue in Macau fell 3.7 percent in June on an annual basis, the first decline in more than four years, with analysts saying the soccer World Cup had diverted gamblers and their hefty bets away from the world's largest casino hub.
The southern Chinese territory of Macau, a special administrative region, like neighboring Hong Kong, is the only place in the country casino gambling is legal.
Gambling revenue from Macau's 35 casinos fell to 27.2 billion patacas in June ($3.4 billion) from 28.3 billion patacas a year earlier, according to data released by the Macau government on Tuesday. Analysts were expecting a drop of between 4-6 percent.
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Chinese punters have instead been wagering on the football competition in Brazil. Authorities arrested 22 people on June 18 for their involvement in an illicit soccer betting ring according to Macau police. Betting slips the ring received in one week reached as much as HK$5 billion ($645.19 million) and the average daily amount of betting was more than HK$700 million.
While June's casino gambling revenue decline was the first drop since the government started publishing data in 2010, some analysts expect growth in the coming months to regain momentum due to solid spending from Chinese visitors.
Over the past two months, global investors have pared bets on stocks geared to Macau after a raft of regulatory curbs sparked concerns about slowing revenue growth.
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Among the measures are restrictions on the use of state bank card UnionPay, which Chinese nationals use to get out millions of yuan. Legally they are only allowed to take 20,000 yuan ($3,200) out of China per day. To get around this, they pretend to purchase expensive items from stores using their UnionPay cards and instead of actually receiving the items, they get cash.
Retail stores dotted within the gaming areas in many of the casinos are frequently used for this purpose, serving as a quick and convenient stop for mainlanders to take out millions of yuan.
Francis Tam, Macau's secretary for economy and finance, has said no new card device terminals will be allowed in retail stores within the casino area from July 1, but existing card devices do not have to be removed, contrasting to what Macau bankers and casino executives were told in May.
Jewelry and watch stores located inside the gaming area of casinos like U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Venetian, located on Macau's Las Vegas-style Cotai strip, were doing business as usual on July 1. Customers were still able to make transactions in UnionPay with the bank card symbol clearly displayed on store fronts.
Casino executives said on Tuesday the government was being flexible about imposing deadlines and has given retail stores until November to relocate from the gaming floor to other areas within the resort.