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Can mom-and-pop gamblers save Macau?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
A roulette table is seen at the glitzy Venetian hotel in Macau.
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Hopes abound that mom-and-pop gamblers will sweep into Macau and save the day after the enclave's gaming revenue tumbled in October, but it isn't clear they can replace the VIP players who are staying away in droves.

"[They're] low-end gamers, but they do spend on hotels and other ancillary nongaming type of activity and that's been a growth sector," Jonathan Galaviz, a partner at consultancy Global Market Advisors, told CNBC. "Companies that really have a good strategy to look at the middle class [or] middle market will do well."

Gambling revenue in October tumbled 23 percent on-year, the fifth consecutive month of declines and the sharpest drop since record-keeping started.

Read MoreMacau Oct gaming revenues set for worst drop on record

"I lay [the blame] squarely at the door of the anti-corruption drive in China," said John Bruce, a director of operations for Macau at Hill & Associates. "This anti-corruption drive has not just kept corrupt figures out of Macau. It's kept any high-profile person out of Macau, because nobody wants to be the subject of an investigation in China, innocent or not."

But he noted that while VIPs are staying away, some operators are seeing strong pickups in mass-market gamblers, with MGM's mass-market up more than 30 percent in the third quarter.

"Mass market as a whole is performing very well still," he said, adding that he believes the gaming revenue is near a bottom, with a recovery likely early next year. Bruce noted that casinos tend to get higher margins on mass-market gamblers as mom-and-pop players tend to be "less skillful" and the casinos don't have to pay junket commissions.

Is Macau still the best bet for casino operators?

"I don't think you can underestimate the number of outward bound Chinese tourists," Bruce said. "You're seeing new wealth. You're seeing new people coming. "

But not everyone is certain mom-and-pop players can carry the load.

"Growth in estimated mass spend per visitor began decelerating in July 2014 as premium mass players were likely impacted by transit visa restrictions (reduced frequency) and anti-corruption concerns (high-end premium mass players behaving like VIP customers and keeping a low profile)," Nomura said in a report last month, before October data were released.

Read MoreAre Macau casino stocks a 'screaming buy'?

It believes the spending per mass-market player has yet to hit bottom, while operators have had to keep promotional allowances elevated. Nomura expects gaming revenue will fall around 3 percent in 2015, noting its forecast is among the lowest on the street.

Even Galaviz noted other regional gambling locations are starting to pick up gamblers avoiding Macau.

"There is some spillover effect that's actually occurring in places like the Philippines and some other markets because of the clampdown," he said, noting that Las Vegas is also seeing an upswing in Chinese tourism.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter