The following infographic includes information about the state of Las Vegas and Macau’s casino industries between 2007-2017. The decade in question included periods of sharp economic downturn in both cities that were followed by what are believed to be periods of stabilization.
Last year, both cities recorded gaming revenue increases but, as it can be seen, are still far from their all-time revenue peak. Diversification, expansion, and renovation are the three main factors that are hoped to help Las Vegas and Macau eventually reach and surpass their record results from previous years, but both cities need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes that somewhat defined and intensified their struggles.
In late 2007, a financial crisis of epic proportions covered the world with a thick layer of economic uncertainty. The United States took a terrible hit. But of all places across the United States, Las Vegas was among those to suffer the most severe downturn.
The city was (and still is) heavily reliant on industries that were anything but recession-proof. And when the recession hit, tourism, leisure, and hospitality were the first to throw in the towel. Thousands of jobs were shed, a number of construction projects on the Strip were stalled, and tourist numbers tumbled.
Ten years after the recession, Las Vegas seems to have recovered in a number of ways. However, the city still carries the scars from the unmatched global financial crisis and cringes from the memory of how badly it suffered.
Some 7,300 miles westwards, a city in Southeast China quietly turned into the world’s biggest hub for casino gambling. In 2004, Macau’s casino industry generated gaming revenue of around $7 billion. The city was lagging behind the $10 billion generated by casinos in Las Vegas and Clark County. By 2012, the Macau-based casinos of US gambling giants Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts generated more than a half of these companies’ revenues.
However, Macau has long been criticized for allegedly building a gambling industry on vice, organized crime ties, and corruption. In addition to that, the special administrative region was repeatedly warned against making itself too dependent on VIP customers from Mainland China, as this could destroy or at least weaken its whole economy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared war on corruption when he assumed office in 2013 and made that war a cornerstone of his reign. The campaign resulted in hundreds of thousands “tigers and flies” – referring to both high- and low-ranking Chinese politicians – being punished for too lavish lifestyle and suspiciously frequent trips to Macau’s casinos.
The corruption crackdown quickly took its toll on Macau. Gaming revenue at the tiny Chinese enclave dropped to $43.9 billion in 2014, down 2.5% from an all-time high of $45.1 billion in 2013. The next year was even worse for Macau’s casino industry, as President Xi’s clampdown scared away high rollers and gaming revenue tumbled to $28.9 billion. In 2017, the city recorded its first full-year revenue increase since 2013, and many believe that it has taken the right path to recovery.
But What Went Wrong?
By most accounts, Las Vegas was thriving right before the Great Recession hit. In 2007, Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, recorded all-time high gaming revenue of nearly $11 billion. Average daily hotel room rate also hit its highest at $132.09. With more and more cities around US opening casinos, Las Vegas was urged to and successfully upped the ante to outshine emerging competitors.
It was not difficult for the city to lead the charge as its hotels became even more dazzling, its night-time entertainment facilities became even more opulent, and its signature restaurants became braver and artsier in their approach to food. Combined with its older casinos and newly opened integrated resorts and Las Vegas’ growing popularity of a convention destination, the city seemed to have found the recipe for success.
However, the Great Recession stomped into the city in 2008 to tear its economy into pieces. And that was when Las Vegas realized that its leading industries were actually the first to suffer at a time of a severe economic downfall.
Jobs took the biggest hit. Unemployment rate peaked at around 14% in the first years after the beginning of the financial crisis. In comparison, unemployment rate in the Las Vegas metro area stood at just 4.1% in March 2007.
Prior to the recession, casino jobs in Clark County accounted for around 18.8% of the total. Leisure and hospitality jobs in the county comprised nearly 30%. Construction workers fared the worst, according to recession figures. The number of construction jobs plummeted from 102,700 in 2007 to a little over 37,500 in 2011.
During the recession, the Las Vegas and Southern Nevada housing market saw an unprecedented crash with housing prices dropping 62%. Thus, the city became the poster child of the housing bubble and its 2007-08 bust as well as of how rotten loans shattered the American dream overnight.
The onset of the recession also saw an all-time high increase of oil prices, which resulted in decreased travel frequency. When the Great Recession sunk its teeth into the US and the rest of the world, when the mortgage crisis struck, and when unemployment rates jumped, people seem to have decided that they did not really need to travel to Las Vegas and to gamble that much. As a result, gaming revenue in Las Vegas began to plummet.
Revenue at Strip and Downtown casinos dropped to $6.7 billion in 2008 and to $6.074 billion in 2009. Discouraged by the revenue figures, casino developers stalled multi-million projects out of fear that given the general economic instability, their demise was predestined.
Construction on the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a 4,000-room, $2.9-million casino resort, began in 2007, right before things went downhill. The project was 70% complete when work was halted.
Echelon Place, the nearly $5-billion hotel and casino resort pitched by Boyd Gaming, became another victim of the Great Recession. The project was announced in 2006, but construction was suspended two years later as owners dreaded failure.
Casino giant MGM Resorts International was on the verge of halting construction of its $8.5-billion CityCenter complex, which was the largest private investment project in the Las Vegas history at the time.
Ten years later, things seem to have moved far from the depths of the crisis in the late 2000s. However, while the Great Recession did not manage to destroy the Las Vegas dream completely, it certainly mangled it almost beyond recognition.
The city has been trying to reinvent itself and has succeeded to an extent, but some of the scars are still there and it will probably take several more years for these to be completely erased.
Macau’s contemporary casino industry was formed in the early 2000s when the government of the tiny Chinese enclave offered Chinese businessmen and a select group of foreign gambling companies the opportunity to apply for permits to operate casinos in the city. Billionaire Stanley Ho had long been the single owner of gambling venues in Macau prior to that.
Six concessions and sub-concessions were given out to interested companies and the creation of what would turn into Asia’s most exciting playground and the world’s winningest casino hub began.
At first, Macau’s casinos generated only a fraction of the revenue of their counterparts in Las Vegas. However, the Chinese territory caught up quickly and eventually outstripped Las Vegas. By 2007, when Vegas had its best year in terms of gaming revenue, Macau had already become the world’s highest grossing casino city.
And while its American counterpart was struggling with the aftermaths of the Great Recession in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the Chinese special administrative region was thriving and recording stable revenue growth with each year passing by. Macau reached an all-time gaming revenue high in 2013, when its casinos generated $45.093 billion. At that time, the city’s casino industry was six times larger than that of Las Vegas.
And while 2013 was Macau’s best year, it was also the year when President Xi showed that he intended to keep his promise to bulldoze corruption. The city has long been described as an easy target for money laundering, another place in China largely controlled by the triads – the Chinese mafia – and a favorite outlet for corrupt Chinese politicians and thriving businessmen with shady operations to gamble away the proceeds of their crimes.
The far-reaching anti-graft campaign took its toll on Macau and showed exactly how dependent the city was on proceeds from VIP clients. Here it is important to note that unlike the Las Vegas Strip where slot machines generate almost as much revenue as table games, VIP baccarat at Macau’s casinos accounts for more than a half of the city’s annual gross gaming revenue.
Following the launch of the anti-corruption campaign under the aegis of President Xi, wealthy high rollers from Mainland China lessened their spending on gambling activities and disappeared from Macau. They were trying to keep low profile in order to avoid drawing attention amid the anti-graft drive.
As a result, the city’s casino revenue dropped to $43.94 billion in 2014 from the record high of $45.093 billion in 2013. It kept falling for 26 straight month. It dropped 34.3% in 2015 to a five-year low of $28.9 billion, failing to crack the $30-billion mark for the first time since 2010. The speed at which revenue decreased slowed in 2016, and while the amount of $27.9 billion was generated in gross gaming revenue by the end of that year, only a single-digit drop was recorded.
July 2016 was the last month when Macau’s monthly revenue dropped. It then began climbing at a modest rate in the months between August 2016 and January 2017. During that period, the month of November was the only to record a double-digit growth. From February 2017 onwards, monthly casino revenue has been climbing at a double-digit rate. Macau’s six casino operators generated a total of $3.3 billion in gross gaming revenue in January 2018, up 36.4% year-on-year.
Macau’s downfall helped the city realize something important – relying heavily on a single visitors group could put its economic model at serious risk. However, it is yet to be seen whether it has learned a lesson.
Gross Gaming Revenue Data (2014-2016)
|Las Vegas Gross Gaming Revenue ( Downtown Vegas and Strip)||Macau Gross Gaming Revenue|
|Year||Million $||Million MOP||Million $|
Time for Recovery
A decade after the Great Recession, the American economy seems to have put the worst behind and Las Vegas seems to be humming along quite nicely. The city has once again become one of the hottest real estate markets in the United States. According to November 2017 data, property prices went up 10.6% from a year earlier.
Last spring, unemployment rate approached pre-recession levels at 4.7%. Many construction jobs that had disappeared during the crisis were brought back over the past several years with the introduction of massive construction projects, including the stadium that the Oakland Raiders are to call home in a couple of years.
However, according to a report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, underemployment in Nevada was still standing at much higher levels than pre-recession ones. In 2016, underemployment accounted for 12.2% of the state’s labor force. Generally speaking, the metric includes people who are forced to work part-time because of poor business conditions.
It can be said that the Great Recession spurred reinvention in Las Vegas. According to data by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, more people are coming to the city than ever. A total of 42.9 million visitors flocked to Las Vegas in 2016, an all-time high surpassing even the 39.1 million peak recorded in 2007. In 2017, the number of visits dropped slightly to 42.2 million, but still beat pre-recession numbers.
Diversity was and will be at the core of Las Vegas’ recovery. More and more people have been traveling to the city not only for the plethora of gambling options, but also for the even greater plethora of non-gambling options offered.
In other words, record numbers of visitors have been spending record amounts of money. However, as analysts have pointed out, people have been spending their money differently.
Hotel occupancy, food and beverage services, night-time entertainments, convention activity, and other revenue areas have been at their all-time best over the past two or three years. However, compared to these, gaming revenue has been growing slowly.
Gross gaming revenue at Las Vegas’ Strip and Downtown casinos totaled $7.092 billion in 2017, surpassing the $7-billion mark for the first time since 2013. However, given the fact that the city has already embraced diversity, it is believed that its path to recovery could be the right one.
Here it is important to note that gaming revenue could have been a bit higher last year, if it had not been for the October 1 mass shooting that killed 58 people and left injured more than 500 others. The night after a gambler and retired accountant opened fire on concert-goers from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay raised multiple questions over the levels of security maintained in the city and its ability to prevent deadly incidents from taking place.
Las Vegas will certainly need some time to drown out its October 1 demons, but hopefully the right measures are taken in due course.
The record number of visitors and the constantly growing hotel occupancy rates both on and off the Strip have encouraged developers to renew construction activity and to renovate their existing properties.
Earlier this month, it became clear that New York real estate firm Witkoff had partnered hospitality giant Marriott International to complete the unfinished Fontainebleau Las Vegas and open it as The Drew Las Vegas in 2020. The property is located in a portion of the Strip that has previously been neglected by developers. The northern end of the legendary Strip will see yet another giant resort spring up in 2020 – the $4-billion-plus Resorts World Las Vegas, currently under development at the site of what was planned to be Boyd Gaming’s Echelon Place before the recession.
Several existing properties have undertaken multi-million renovation projects, including The Palazzo, Palms Casino, and Monte Carlo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, which MGM Resorts is splitting into two resorts – Park MGM and NoMad Las Vegas.
It is yet to be seen how and whether the renewed construction and renovation activity will help Las Vegas mend, boost, and diversify its main industries. The city now needs to fight competition both from within and outside the US, to draw a new generation of customers, and to respond to that new generation’s demands properly. However, the massive investment in the city’s recovery provides for a certain amount of optimism that it could succeed in its endeavor.
Diversification and refocus became Macau’s two main goals after President Xi’s crackdown. The city government urged the six concessionaires to avert their attention from the withdrawing VIP customers to recreational casino players and to non-gambling customers.
And the city’s casinos were quick to respond to the changing environment properly. Both launched in 2016, Wynn Palace and The Parisian Macao epitomized the change of Macau’s focus to non-gambling entertainment and to mass-market casino players. And the owners of the properties – Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, respectively – reported robust 2017 results from their Macau operations.
While non-gaming revenue increased after the opening of the two resorts (it accounted for 20% of the revenue generated by Macau’s casino resorts in 2016), VIP gaming revenue reassumed its status of the main driver of growth in the city.
Macau’s casinos generated gross gaming revenue of $33 billion last year. Of that, revenue from VIP baccarat totaled $18.6 billion and accounted for more than a half of the gaming revenue bulk. It also increased from $14.7 billion generated in 2016.
Visitors from Mainland China were more comfortable to travel to Macau in 2017, as Beijing’s anti-graft drive appeared to have lost some of its intensity.
According to analysts, Macau’s VIP sector will continue growing in the next few years and will remain the main driver of growth within the city’s gambling industry. It is believed that unlike Las Vegas, where many of the visitors go there for its non-gambling entertainment, the average Macau casino player is not that interested in the city’s nightlife and its variety of state-of-art food and beverage facilities. In other words, gaming revenue is poised to remain the main contributor to the region’s economy for the time being, unless any overnight change in visitors’ attitude occurs.
As for forecasts for 2018, analysts have mixed views. They all agree that Macau will record gross gaming revenue growth at the end of the year. However, while some are bullish that the recent opening of MGM Cotai and the upcoming opening of a new hotel at Melco Resorts & Entertainment’s City of Dreams would drive a double-digit rise in full-year revenue, others are more modest in their forecasts.
However, the 19.1% increase in gross gaming revenue in 2017 beat many analysts’ expectations, so Macau could be brewing up a new surprise. It is also important to note that first traffic is expected to cross the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau at some point in 2018, which means that the casino hub could receive and additional boost in visitation.
For 2019 and beyond, some analysts are bullish that Macau will see a considerable increase in gross gaming revenue and in the number of visitors from Mainland China. According to a recent note by Morgan Stanley, revenue in Macau could reach $43 billion in 2019. The investment bank also believes that more and more people from smaller Chinese cities will be traveling to Macau in the next several years due to improved economic conditions.
In other words, the tiny Chinese enclave has the chance to nearly reach its 2013 peak in the next few years, if it takes the best possible advantage of the ongoing expansion of its casino industry and the rapid improvements in surrounding infrastructure.
Gross Gaming Revenue Data (2007-2017)
|Las Vegas Gross Gaming Revenue ( Downtown Vegas and Strip)||Macau Gross Gaming Revenue|
|Year||Million $||Million MOP||Million $|