(Corrects second paragraph to say January is 18th month of gains, not 17th)
* Revenue total highest last year bar October’s golden week
* Result far higher than analyst expectations of 20-28 percent rise
* Strong VIP and mass trends likely to continue in near term
Hong Kong, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Gambling revenue in the Chinese territory of Macau skyrocketed 36 percent year-on-year in January on strong demand from big whale gamblers, while mom-and-pop mass punters eager to play in the country’s only legal casino hub also drove up business.
Strong month-on-month growth and a string of 18 consecutive monthly gains indicate a roaring recovery at the world’s biggest casino hub, after revenue crashed to five-year lows in 2014 amid a government campaign against show of wealth among public officials.
In 2017, the former Portuguese colony posted its first annual revenue gain in three years.
January’s haul of 26.3 billion patacas ($3.27 billion) was the highest figure in the past year bar the month of October which had the week-long Chinese holiday, data from Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination bureau showed on Thursday.
The 36 percent monthly gain, the highest in percentage terms since 2011, was far ahead of analysts’ expectations for a 20-28 percent year-on-year growth.
Earnings from Wynn Macau and Sands China were better than forecasts in the fourth quarter, with both seeing strong on-the-ground trends in the special administrative region of Macau.
The other four listed concessionaires - MGM China, Melco Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment and SJM Holdings - will post earnings in the coming weeks.
Despite the bounceback, Macau’s gambling revenues still remain off 2014 highs, hovering around 2012’s monthly levels, Thomson Reuters Datastream showed.
MGM China, which was due to open on Jan. 29, has delayed its plan and is aiming to open in February, it said last week.
The company has been granted 125 gaming tables, slightly lower than market expectations of 150 that were allocated to Wynn and Sands’ new casinos.
Praveen Choudhary, analyst at Morgan Stanley, said a key reason could be the expiry of its licence in March 2020. “We believe once the licence extension is sorted, it is possible to see MGM China receiving more tables for this project.”
The expiration of casino licences is a critical issue for operators as there is large uncertainty over the future outcome.
Government officials have said there may be a new public bidding process when they expire.
Shares in the Macau casino stocks were higher on Thursday with Sands China, MGM China, Galaxy Entertainment and SJM up between 1-3 percent versus the Hang Seng Index that was down 0.1 percent. ($1 = 8.0440 patacas) (Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)