Concerns Raised That US Casino Operators in Macau Could Be Targeted in US-China Trade War

US casino operators licensed in Macau – Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts, and Wynn Resorts – could become targeted by Chinese authorities in retaliation of the ongoing trade war between the United States and People's Republic.

Ongoing tensions between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping could impact US casino operators with businesses in China's Macau. (Image: Saul Loeb/Reuters)

“The US-owned Macau casinos are sitting on what could be called a geopolitical fault line,” gaming analyst Steve Vickers told the South China Morning Post this week. “To date, the Chinese have been quite careful not to escalate the conflict into a direct assault on US interests. But, it remains to be seen what the current attitude is towards Macau and the huge cash outflow associated with the large US casinos.”

While both economies are amid a slowdown, and stock market indexes are plunging, gross gaming revenue in Macau is up nearly 14 percent in 2018 through November. Total casino win is already at $35.3 billion, which tops the entire $33.2 billion haul won in 2017.

Macau's three other gaming concessions are owned by Melco Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment, and SJM Holdings, all of which are headquartered in Hong Kong.

Adelson Influence

Sands is controlled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the man who gave more to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign than any other individual. His association with the Republican commander-in-chief, however, now stands to threaten his operations in China where his company makes the majority of its money.

Sands China owns and operates one casino resort in Macau and four on the enclave's Cotai Strip.

One of the main Macau casinos is the largest donor to the United States Republican Party, and thus, directly to President Donald Trump's party finances,” Vickers added.

Adelson isn't the only US casino operator invested in Macau with strong ties to Trump, the man leading the trade war against Chinese President Xi Jinping. Though Steve Wynn is no longer involved with the company he founded, he's been a resilient GOP donor in recent years and had served as the finance chair of the Republican National Party until the sexual misconduct allegations against him emerged this year.

MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren expressed his support for Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

License Renewal

Macau casino regulators are reviewing all elements of the world's richest gambling market. The goal is to perfect the industry before licenses begin expiring in 2020.

SJM and MGM are up first, with their operating permits scheduled to terminate in March 2020. Sands, Melco, Wynn, and Galaxy expire two years later.

Executives at SJM and MGM have both requested that the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau push back their renewals until 2022 to create a unified process. In a recent note, investment firm Morgan Stanley says it doesn't expect much resolution until the Special Administrative Region elects its next chief executive in December 2019.

Macau gaming law allows licenses to be extended one time for up to five additional years. After that, the permits formally expire and must enter a public tender process to recertify their validation.

Morgan Stanley expects all six casino operators to maintain their permits past their scheduled expiries. But the group believes Macau will impose a one-time fee or increase the current 39 percent gaming tax.

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