A tour during the first day of an unprecedented casino shutdown

A sleepy and empty Cotai woke up in the first of a 15-day suspension on casino operations, as local authorities look to contain the further spread of the novel coronavirus.

Shortly after Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng announced yesterday the measure would be announced to all six gaming and sub-concessionaires, a government dispatch made it official: after a health risk assessment by the Novel Coronavirus Contingency Coordination Center, and to avoid transmission of the new coronavirus in Macau, starting from 12 midnight February 5, 2020, all 41 casinos in the city are to be closed for half a month, including other businesses inside gaming areas.

Cotai shortly before the 15-day suspension was enforced.

It was an unprecedented decision in local history, with casinos having previously only closed for a short 33 hours period in 2018 due to Typhoon Manghkut.

The official release also announced the closing of entertainment areas that usually attract large gatherings were also closed, including cinemas, theaters, amusement parks, video games rooms, internet cafes, billiard and bowling games rooms, saunas and massage establishments, beauty salons, gyms, health clubs, karaoke establishments, bars, night clubs, and curiously, also cabarets.

The decision was made after the two last confirmed coronavirus cases in the city were revealed to be resident gaming operator employees, one a 29-year-old a Galaxy Macau employee, who had contact with the eighth case, a 64-year-old resident, and a 59-year-old SJM Holdings shuttle bus driver.

So far, 10 confirmed cases were reported in Macau, three local residents and seven Hubei province residents.

Macau News Agency (MNA) went to several casinos in Cotai and Macau and could witness that outside gaming areas, several restaurants, hotels and boutique stores remained open, although with several closed.

The decision will also clearly impact the local gaming sector and the overall economy, with local gross gaming revenues having already dropped by 11.3 per cent year-on-year in January to MOP22.12 billion (US$2.7 billion) before the suspension and with Chinese New Year visitor numbers having fallen 78.3 per cent year-on-year to 261,069.

Meanwhile, analysts are expecting gaming results in the first quarter of this year to fall as much as 50 per cent year-on-year.

Yesterday Macau authorities had also referred that the suspension would impact about 40,000 gaming sector employees, and admitted the local economy – already with negative predictions for 2020 – would likely take a hit.

According to contacts made by MNA to casino employees, most frontline staff related to gaming areas is off on annual leave, while arrangements made for some back-office staff to either work from home or provide assistance to the guests that remain in the properties at this time.

A visit at 1:00pm to The Venetian, the largest property in Macau, could see the resort visibly empty of the usual large crowds roaming its Grand Canal Shoppes and gaming halls, with about half of the stores seemingly closed and everyone from security, employees, and clients sporting health masks.

No access was granted to the casino areas with security guards standing in escalators or other entrances.

Due to the size of the property’s casino area, one was also required to make a longer trip from one side to the other of the property and through different floors.

Although most restaurants in the property’s canteen hall were open, very few people were seen eating in the area, with many looking to be employees in the resort.

In the nearby Galaxy Macau it was possible to see that construction works in the property’s Phase 3 – which will add 400,000 square feet of conference space, a 16,000-seat arena, and an additional 1,300 hotel rooms – continued.

Several construction projects in the city came to a halt as most of the labor in such projects consists of Mainland China workers, with authorities suggesting for non-resident workers to either stay in their places of origin or with operators having to guarantee residence in Macau.

Entering the property through its JW Marriott hotel – which remained open albeit with several check-in counters closed – around 2:00pm, one could see that despite the casino closure, several tourists could be seen in the resort halls with most shops and restaurants open.

Closed Galaxy Macau casino

Meanwhile, a visit at 2:30pm to the iconic Grand Lisboa and Hotel Lisboa properties showed a similar situation with most restaurants and stores remaining opened but with far fewer visitors.

Closed Hotel Lisboa casino
Closed Hotel Lisboa casino

It is worth mentioning that, while security staff at The Venetian did not raise issues with photos being taken of the shuttered gaming areas, security staff at Grand Lisboa and Galaxy Macau tried to block photos being taken of the closed entrances, with security in the last property even requesting that photos be deleted.

A perplexing decision since the photos were taken outside casino areas and since the privacy of any player was in question as the gaming floors were clearly deserted.

Closed Grand Lisboa casino

While no body temperature checks were conducted while entering The Venetian via its underground parking, at the remaining properties security conducted body temperature checks on its entrances.

In an open letter issued today, the Macau CE expressed that work to prevent and combat the epidemic in Macau is now entering a ‘tougher and more difficult phase’ and called for all sectors of society to collaborate in preventing the outbreak and resume daily life as fast as possible