Casinos and Gaming

Macau is slowing but party's not over: James Packer

Julian Abram Wainwright | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The downturn in the once-booming gambling hub of Macau has been far sharper than anticipated, says billionaire gaming mogul James Packer, but he insists the party is not over yet.

"The slowdown in Macau is more severe than any of the operators foresaw," Packer, chairman of Crown Resorts, one of Australia's biggest gaming and entertainment groups, told CNBC on Tuesday.

"I don't think anyone, 18 months ago, would have predicted what's happened now," he said.

China's anti-graft campaign and economic slowdown have hit the industry hard, with gaming revenues declining for an eleventh straight month in April – down 38.8 percent on year to 9.167 billion patacas ($2.40 billion).

Casinos under the rug

"As an Australian investor in China and Macau it's very hard to be critical of a corruption crackdown. When and how that ends is something that no one knows," he said.

"But the long-term macro picture for Macau is still incredibly exciting," he said, given it is the only place in China where casinos are legal.

Melco Crown Entertainment, a joint venture between Packer and Hong Kong gaming tycoon Lawrence Ho, operates two gaming resorts in the Chinese gaming enclave: City of Dreams and Altira Macau.

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Its adjusted property earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization came in at $253.3 million in the first quarter of the year, 35 percent lower than a year earlier.

"I think we've all got to be mindful of the fact that it's been a terrific ride so far, and nothing is a straight line up," Packer said.

Investors, however, aren't ready to dip their toes back into Macau's casino sector just yet.

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Despite hefty losses in gaming stocks over the past year-and-a-half, Nomura says it's "too early to bottom fish."

"Several industry headwinds may dampen the pace of recovery in Macau," Richard Huang, analyst at Nomura wrote in a report.

Apart from continued anti-corruption efforts, Macau faces three key structural challenges: a lack of attractions for non-gamblers, high travel costs and infrastructure bottlenecks.

Regardless, Huang says he believes "new integrated resorts and new transportation infrastructure planned over the next few years should resolve those structural issues."

A series of bridges and tunnels that will connect Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, three major cities on the Pearl River Delta, is currently under construction and due to open in 2016.

Still, he cautions that Macau's recovery will take some time.

"We caution that Rome was not built in a day and we see no signs of a 'V-shape' recovery."