Residents of mainland China will be allowed to visit Macau using an online visa system as of Tuesday November 1st, officials said. The move, which is expected to encourage travel to the world’s largest gambling hub after more than two years of pandemic restrictions, could suffer a blow after new Covid-19 cases were detected this weekend, as reported by Reuters. Macau authorities have thus reinstated tough measures including locking down a major casino.
Authorities locked down the MGM Cotai casino resort owned by MGM China on Sunday October 30th. Staff and guests were ordered to stay inside until November 1st, according to Reuters. All of Macau’s 700,000 residents have been asked to take rapid antigen tests daily during the period, the government announced.
Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal and the former Portuguese colony once dwarfed even Las Vegas for the scale of bets placed every month. China’s strict controls have had an impact on the city’s gaming sector.
China’s Immigration Administration announced that an electronic visa system is to be launched from November 1st. For the past two and a half years, visitors from the mainland have been required to submit detailed, in-person applications to visit the Chinese territory, with approvals typically limited to essential business travel.
The announcement paves the way for mainland travel groups, which once made up the vast majority of punters, to return to the Casinos. China’s immigration authorities said they now judged the Covid-19 situation in Macau to be “stable,” despite health officials in the city locking down the MGM Cotai casino resort on Sunday.
The city remains largely closed to overseas visitors and maintains a seven-day hotel quarantine policy. Even if pandemic measures are fully lifted, it is unlikely Macau’s casinos will see a return to their busiest days, analysts said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign that has increased scrutiny of the high-rollers and officials who travel to gamble in Macau, where cases of money laundering are common.
According to Reuters, Macau’s six casino operators – Sands China (1928.HK), Wynn Macau (WYNN.O), Galaxy Entertainment (0027.HK), MGM China, Melco Resorts and SJM Holdings (0880.HK) – are waiting for the government’s decision on whether they will be granted new licenses to continue operating in 2023. The casinos who do not receive a new license would have to return their premises to the government.