The recent sharing seminars on ‘Two Sessions’ by gaming operators is one of their latest attempts to prove their credentials to Beijing for getting a license in the new public tender process, but the future for US-linked entities remains uncertain, say analysts
Following the conclusion of the annual plenary sessions of China’s top legislature and top political advisory body, which are widely known as ‘Two Sessions’, it’s a common practice for Mainland Chinese entities from provincial and municipal public bodies to corporations and associations to hold talks and seminars to discuss and study the latest policy initiatives from the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
In Macau, this practice usually rests on the shoulders of the Central People’s Government Liaison Office (CPGLO) here, which advocates and consolidates the support for the motherland and national policies during the seminar. But this year, Beijing’s top representative office here has more allies — gaming operators.
Four out of six gaming operators in the city have organised sharing sessions on the spirits of ‘Two Sessions’ this year, one of their measures in recent years to showcase their support for the local authorities and the Central Government, say analysts, in a bid to enhance their likelihood of keeping their gaming concession or subconcession in the new public tender process, something especially important for US-owned gaming operators that have been embroiled in the deteriorating ties between China and the United States.
After the annual meetings of NPC and CPPCC wrapped up in late May, postponed from early March due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), all three US-linked casino operators here — Wynn Macau Ltd, Sands China Ltd, and MGM China Holdings Ltd — and Galaxy Entertainment Group (GEG) noted in separate press statements they held the relevant seminars respectively in June. Macau delegates at NPC and CPPCC, and officials from the Liaison Office and the Macau gaming regulator (DICJ – Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau) were invited at these sessions to share their insights with the staff of gaming operators on the key policies of the central government and Macau’s role in the national development. It is the second time for Wynn Macau to host the ‘Two Sessions’ seminar, following the inaugural edition last year, while it is the first time for the other three to do so.
Analysts think it is an extraordinary move for gaming operators, particularly the three US-owned gaming entities, to host these Chinese patriotic events. “It is understandable for [US operators] to do so given the political climate between China and the US,” says Eilo Yu Wing Yat, associate head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau.
The ties between the world’s two largest economies have soured since the two sides began a trade war in 2018. Albeit the ups and downs, the relationship hit rock bottom in recent weeks with the implementation of the controversial national security law in Hong Kong, whose promulgation process has bypassed the Hong Kong legislature. The law, as regarded by Beijing, could end months of ‘pro-independent’ and ‘subversive’ protests and unrest scenes in Hong Kong since last year over the now-shelved extradition bill, but Washington believes this would imperil the political autonomy of the nearby special administrative region and has imposed sanctions on some Hong Kong officials.
While Macau has so far remained largely unscathed from the power play between China and the US, compared with the geopolitical battleground in Hong Kong, political observers have tipped the gaming licenses of US-linked operators might be in jeopardy amid the heightened bilateral tensions. The concessions and subconcessions of all six gaming operators here will expire by 2022, but the authorities have so far not offered any details of the process yet, only indicating a public consultation process on the topic might start in the second half of this year.
“The future of gaming licenses is not entirely the issue of the Macau government only… Beijing definitely has a say on the matter,” says Prof Yu. “The attitude of Beijing towards the US operators really depends on how the confrontation between the two countries will play out in the upcoming months,” he notes, adding some operators might try to change their image of being a US firm.
Gaming industry consultant Ben Lee, managing partner of Macau-based IGamiX Management and Consulting Ltd, also notes: “As the US first targeted Huawei, and now WeChat and Tiktok, it’s a natural reaction for Beijing to retaliate by targeting American companies in China, including the [gaming] companies operating on the Chinese soil, Macau.”
The US government signalled in August it might ban WeChat and Tiktok, two popular social media platforms founded by Chinese capital, which it deems as posing risks to national security. Washington also stepped up restrictions on the access of Huawei, the Chinese technology giant, to chips and other technologies in the same month.
“[The US gaming operators in Macau] realise there are risks and concerns along with the deteriorating relationship between Beijing and Washington,” says Mr. Lee. “[So organising events like ‘Two Sessions’ seminars] show goodwill and might enhance their chances of securing a license in the new public tender process.”
In a press release about the NPC and CPPCC sharing seminar this year, Wynn Macau noted the event “demonstrated Wynn’s commitment to spreading a sense of care to all corners of the community, uniting forces from different sectors to build a harmonious community and country.” MGM China noted, “The seminar enabled team members to realise that Macau’s development is closely intertwined with the prosperity and success of our nation.”
On the other hand, Sands China remarked in a statement the sharing session “is part of Sands China’s ongoing effort to promote professionalism education, and to comprehensively strengthen employee knowledge of the business environment as well as national development.”
While it is the first time for some gaming operators here to hold ‘Two Sessions’ sharing seminars this year, all six casino companies have come up with a number of events in recent years to demonstrate their support for Mainland China. Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, chaired by Macau gaming tycoon Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, has launched the ‘Splendours of China’ programme since 2016 to help its staff understand more about the Chinese cultural heritage, history and modernisation through regular talks, seminars and visits. The company, for example, sent 20 executives for a national education study trip to the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai under the support of the liaison office in Macau last year.
With the greater emphasis placed by the central government on the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area in recent years, Sands China has organised two rounds of ‘Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Visit’ professional training for its staff members to better understand the development of the nation since 2018. Concerning Wynn Macau, the company has organised seminars on national education since 2017, inviting academics and experts to beef up the knowledge of its employees on the country’s latest situation, development path, and economic policies.
In face of the global pandemic this year, all the gaming operators have also donated at least MOP20 million (US$2.5 million) each to support the mainland — namely Hubei province where the first batch of COVID-19 cases were reported — for procurement of medical supplies and equipment through the local Liaison Office.
Wang Changbin, director of the Centre of Gaming and Tourism Studies at the Macau Polytechnic Institute, is not surprised by these moves. “Organising these national education events, as well as supporting local small-and medium-sized enterprises and staff training in the past few years, are attempts by gaming operators to tell [the local authorities and central government] that they are socially responsible and entitled to a gaming license,” the scholar says.
Concerning the US-linked operators, Prof. Wang also acknowledges there are still a lot of uncertainties clouding their future, depending on the ties between the world’s two largest economies. But he notes there might be more clarity on the matter after the US presidential election in early November, whether incumbent president Donald Trump will be re-elected or Democratic nominee Joe Biden will win and signal any changes in the US policy towards China.
A local political figure, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pinpoints ‘political correctness’ has driven gaming operators and others to host more national education and relevant activities. “Not only gaming operators but also public bodies and other local associations have run more activities under the name of patriotism under the current political climate, particularly after what has happened in Hong Kong in the past year,” the figure says.
“With the Greater Bay Area plan, as well as Beijing’s vision of further integration of Macau into the mainland, there are just merits but no demerits for holding these types of events,” the figure adds.
Besides four gaming operators, more local associations and entities have devised sharing sessions and seminars concerning ‘Two Sessions’ this year, including Bank of China Macau Branch Youth Association, Nam Kwong Youth Association linked to the local state-owned firm Nam Kwong Group, the Association of Returned Overseas Chinese Macau, the Women’s General Association of Macau, the Macau Federation of Trade Unions, the Macau Youth Federation, the Macao Youth Association of Patriotic Education, the Macau SME Association, and others.
A press release from GEG quoted Chen Guo Kai, director general of the Economic Affairs Department of the CPGLO, hailing the commitment of local entities. Speaking on the GEG-led ‘Two Sessions’ seminar in June, Mr. Chen noted, “Including GEG, a lot of Macau enterprises and social organizations need to be applauded for their recent efforts on inviting NPC and CPPCC delegates to conduct sharing sessions with their respective members and for promoting the spirit of the ‘Two Sessions’.”
“These sessions have deepened citizens’ understanding for China’s national policies and development trajectory, popularized and promoted national education, as well as garnering support for the integration of Hong Kong and Macau into the construction and development of the country,” the official added.