* Revenue at high end of estimates
* March revenue expected to be flat
* Leadership handover may curb visitors
By Farah Master
HONG KONG, March 1 Gambling revenue in Macau,
the world's biggest gambling hub, rose 11.5 percent in February
year-on-year, boosted by cash-rich gamblers that flooded the
southern China enclave during a week-long holiday earlier in the
February's revenue, at 27.1 billion patacas ($3.39 billion),
was at the top end of analyst forecasts for growth of between 9
and 11 percent.
Macau, a Portuguese colony until 1999, raked in $38 billion
in annual gambling revenues last year. With a population of half
a million, it is the only place in China where people can
legally gamble in casinos.
The week-long Chinese New Year holiday saw almost 1 million
visitors enter Macau, but volumes from so-called "whales" - VIP
gamblers who spend 1 million yuan ($160,700) at a time - was
muted with revenues largely generated from mass-market visitors,
said casino executives.
The number of mass-market visitors is rapidly growing and
supporting overall revenue growth. Made up of China's emerging
middle class, the mass market is boosting casino operators like
U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Sands China.
Appetite from VIP gamblers has shrunk since last year with
Chinese authorities pressing Macau to step up scrutiny of money
transfers as part of a broader move to combat corruption.
The change in China's national leadership that
begins next week is also likely to curtail the number of
high-rolling VIP visitors to Macau in March.