Neptune Group, one of Macau’s biggest junkets, admitted in a dire filing this week that it had lost around $130 million so far this year.
“We are unsure how to cope with this vicious circle which has devastated Macau’s VIP gaming business,” it said, according to the South China Morning Post.
The firm cited government measures to track money going to the gambling haven, the devaluation of the Chinese yuan, and new regulations on junkets – high-roller financing firms – as the reasons why their business was being “devastated.”
“We think a further negative impact on VIP gaming volumes is inevitable, accelerating junket room closures,” it said.
Macau’s overall monthly gambling revenue has seen year-over-year declines of between 30% and 50% since late last summer. That’s when the government started cracking down on the amount of money and number of people heading to the territory.
Macau’s high-roller scene has been hit harder than any other part of the gambling industry. The government’s anti-corruption drive has made it dangerous for Chinese people to flaunt their wealth.
That means junkets -which act as high-roller financing firms and investment pools that pay out returns from leveraged VIP winnings – have been getting reamed. Sixteen percent of all of Macau’s junkets closed in 2014.
That year, liquidity was zapped from the system when someone made off with $1.3 billion in junket funds. Jason Ader, founder of hedge fund SpringOwl and an investor in Macau’s gaming industry, called it Macau’s “Lehman moment,” referring to now-defunct investment-bank Lehman Brothers.
In September, $13 million was stolen from one junket and overall Macau gambling revenue fell 33%. Analysts pointed to the VIP sector for a lot of that weakness.
“Based on our checks, contributing to the sequential decline were: (1) junket theft liquidity issues, and (2) low VIP win rate,” wrote Wells Fargo analyst Cameron McKnight, emphasis ours.
“We remain on the sidelines on the Macau gaming names as estimates and valuations adjust to a ”new normal” of: (1) tighter government oversight, (2) a recovery that is likely to be flatter than prior rebounds, and (3) a weak Chinese economy – all of which are contributing to more muted revenue growth in Macau,” he continued.