OPINION-Placing our bets

The most awaited figure for October is out. There was a lot of expectation, as the opening of borders for mainland visitors started to gather pace, and the golden week promised many visitors eager to compensate for the drought of previous months.

And up did the numbers go. The casino revenues climbed to more than 7.2 billion patacas, the highest monthly result in the current year, January aside. But January was before the sky started to fall, and is out of this reckoning. October revenue alone was bigger than the combined revenues obtained between April and August. September saw the beginning of a reprieve of revenues, rising by 60 percent relative to the previous month, and they more than doubled in October compared to September. 

For a full calendar semester, revenue was below the 10 percent mark compared to the same months the previous year. Indeed, nobody can deny that the result achieved is a very positive development. It provides a ray of hope and points in the desired direction. However, it is arguably below expectations, and certainly much below the revenue levels that might bring significant respite to the local economy.

Let us see why. The result is still just over a quarter of what the same month brought last year. Supposing the momentum is kept, which we will only know one month from now, it is still unlikely we return to anything close to what existed before, anytime soon. With two months to go, the accumulated revenue stands at one-fifth of 2019.

In parallel, results for hotel occupancy were also not as strong as hoped. Further, there are no signs of significant changes in the near term on the border policies. September’s visitors were already on the rise but still below the half-million level. Values for October are not yet known. Even if they were close to the million value, that would nevertheless be too little. Those were the existing numbers before the casino boom, with much fewer facilities or gambling positions.  

We have a casino sector and, more generally, a tourism sector geared to generate gambling revenues at least three times as big and receive more than three million visitors per month. The pain thresholds are certainly diverse for the many companies affected, but a machine this big cannot operate with so little fuel. Without significant changes, bleeding will continue.