But there are no Michelin-starred restaurants open on a recent visit. Nor were pastry shops known for Portuguese egg pies. The luxury stores at several casino resorts that the Washington Post visited also closed. In the few open stores, bored staff members watched movies on their phones, slept or walked aimlessly. A saleswoman at a Cartier store in the Venetian complex owned by Las Vegas Sands said the store had not sold anything in a week. In other parts of the complex, empty gondolas were attached to the bars (however, opera music was still playing).
Macao, the world’s largest gambling market, with seven times the income of the Las Vegas Strip, stopped when its government closed the casinos on February 5 to stop the spread of the new coronavirus emanating from the Chinese province of Hubei. As residents heard the warnings of staying indoors, the streets of Macau, usually crowded with tourists, especially from mainland China, became a post-apocalyptic picture.
The two-week closure, which will probably last, is unprecedented. Since its transfer from Portugal to China in 1999, Macao has been the only Chinese territory where the game is allowed. The casinos transformed the city’s fortune of 670,000, whose tourism sector now accounts for 80 percent of economic production and whose 41 casinos employ approximately one fifth of the workforce.
“My parents told me that Macao was like that before China opened, when everything was silent and there was no one here,” said Teng Fong Mei, 30, who operated an egg waffle cart that has been the business of the family. for four decades Sales have fallen more than 80 percent, he said., while turning iron plates full of dough.
At an ice cream shop specializing in Durian flavors, Leung Yun Tsz, who has been serving the candy for 20 years, said the turnover was less than 1 percent of usual at this time of year.
However, the Macau government’s order to close the casinos has been widely praised as prudent and responsible by the casino operators, eager to protect their lucrative relationship with the territory, and by the residents who praised the quick action of the authorities to despite the economic losses. Macao has 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus, a number unchanged in several days.
Forty miles away, Hong Kong authorities face dissatisfaction with the management of the epidemic. The 7.4 million financial center has reported a death among 56 confirmed cases of coronavirus. But public anger has focused on the tone of the officials’ response, particularly their refusal to close the border with mainland China and their unwillingness to take measures that could disrupt business. The shortage of protective products has aggravated the frustration of residents.
While Macao has also not completely closed its border with mainland China, the casino’s closure eliminated the incentive for most visitors.
“The Macau government reacted quickly to the epidemic, and the way it handled it is commendable,” said Gary Tse, a VIP casino host in his 20s, who has been on leave since the casinos closed. He said his income has been greatly affected, but he believes the exchange was necessary.
“Casinos are the economic lifeline of Macau, so making this decision shows that the government prioritized the health of citizens over the economy and put people first,” he said.
Macao has maintained a constant supply of surgical masks and hand sanitizers, which have become difficult to find in Hong Kong. The Macau government, led by newly installed executive president Ho Iat Seng, introduced a system that allows most residents to buy 10 masks every 10 days at a fixed price, to avoid tearing and hoarding. On Wednesday, 1 million masks were sold through this program, local media reported.
Macao announced more relief measures this week, including tax refunds, additional subsidies for disadvantaged families, public service subsidies and health care vouchers. To boost consumption, the government is issuing spending coupons valued at almost $ 400.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong still faces a shortage of masks and even toilet paper, as anxiety and distrust in the government drive the purchase of panic.. The Hong Kong government has promised to look for more protective items..
Sonny Lo, a veteran commentator on the politics of both territories, said Beijing relies more on the game center, which considers Macao as more patriotic. Hong Kong, on the other hand, has been shaken by massive protests against China’s growing invasion of territorial affairs, with millions crying out for democracy.
He adds, however, that Beijing has given autonomy to the provinces and territories to face the crisis as they see fit and says that Macao is simply better to adapt.
“The main difference between Hong Kong and Macao is not the issue of authority, it is more the question of how the Hong Kong government assesses how to deal with crises,” Lo said. “Unfortunately, Hong Kong authorities have tried little” to learn from previous emergencies, he added.
Even so, trade concerns increase in Macau, whose economy is much less diversified than Hong Kong’s. Experts have warned for years that Macao must curb its dependence on the income of Chinese casinos and tourists. In addition, even if the casinos reopen later this month, much of mainland China will continue to be blocked by local officials, so the recovery could take months.
“If the city does not explore and develop other industries, the economy cannot be sustained,” said Wing Chan, a university student in Macau.
Matthew Maddox, executive director of Wynn Resorts Ltd., said in a earnings call this month that the closures are costing the company’s two Macau resorts approximately $ 2.5 million a day, regardless of the revenue they would normally earn. . The resorts earned about $ 4 million per day between December 23 and January 10, before the coronavirus outbreak reached crisis levels.
Colin Mansfield, director of financial operations at Fitch Ratings, estimates a loss of $ 1.5 billion in gaming revenue just from the casino closing.
However, casino operators, particularly foreigners such as Las Vegas Sands and Wynn, who rely heavily on Macau, have praised government actions. Sands, through its Chinese subsidiary, has donated 500,000 masks to the Macau government, while others are donating money for research and treatment of the coronavirus.
Losses aside, the crisis is “an opportunity for casino operators to look good for the new CEO and look good even for Beijing,” said Carlos Lobo, a lawyer and game consultant based in Macau.
This is particularly important, he added, as the six casino operators in Macau face the possibility of a new public tender for casino licenses within two years. By winning the goodwill of the territory’s leadership, he said, operators could press for a delay in the bidding process to allow them to recover their losses.
“This could end up being favorable for them,” Lobo said.