Macau casino shares fall as junket firm sounds alarm on VIP gamers

A worker cleans a slot machine inside a new casino following the completion of the second phrase of construction at the Galaxy Macau resort in Macau, China May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Shares in several casino operators in Macau fell to around five-year-lows on Tuesday after Neptune Group, one of the gambling hub’s biggest junkets, said it may have to wind down operations if the number of VIP gamers continues to fall.

The warning by Neptune is the latest in string of bad news affecting Macau’s VIP gambling industry, which has come under increased scrutiny from the authorities due to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign which has targeted the flight of illicit capital from the country.

Shares in Neptune fell 4 percent to near four-year lows, while shares of casino operators Wynn Macau Ltd, Galaxy Entertainment Group and SJM Holdings Ltd dropped around 6-7 percent to near five-year lows. Sands China Ltd slid more than 5 percent to a near three-year low.

Junkets like Neptune, which on Friday said annual earnings had dropped to a five-year low, facilitate loans for VIP gamblers which until early last year accounted for over 70 percent of monthly gaming revenues.

Now, these VIPs account for just half of monthly revenues, putting several junkets out of business. Overall, Macau’s gambling revenues have fallen for the past 15 months, and in July hovered around five-year lows amid Beijing’s crackdown on corruption.

Grant Govertsen, analyst at Macau-based Union Gaming Securities Asia, said the outlook for the VIP gambling industry was set to worsen.

“While we do not believe Neptune is leaving the Macau scene we do believe that more junket closures are likely and that liquidity could increasingly become a concern that could drive further downside to the VIP story,” he said.

One of Neptune’s former major shareholders Cheung Chi-tai is facing three charges of laundering HK$1.8 billion through accounts in the financial center.

Police are also investigating alleged fraud at another major junket operator Dore, which operates three rooms in U.S. mogul Steve Wynn’s Wynn Macau.

Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Miral Fahmy