Macau Casinos’ Exclusive Zones Shunned by Gamblers


In the bustling, neon-soaked streets of Macau, a special administrative region of China known globally as the Vegas of the East, a recent initiative aimed at tempting international gamblers with exclusive gaming zones has faced an unexpected setback. Bill Hornbuckle, the venerable CEO and President of MGM Resorts, has gone on record to express the lackluster reception these foreigner-only gaming areas have received from their intended audience.

The narrative unfolds in the twilight of 2022, when the Macau government, seeking to inject a new vibrancy into its leisure offerings, nudged casino operators to create segregated enclaves within their sprawling gambling havens. This strategy was meant to allure a more global clientele, drawing them away from the likes of Vegas and Monte Carlo and towards Macau’s own glittering casinos.

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As Bill Hornbuckle stood against the backdrop of gaming industry elites at the prestigious JP Morgan Gaming, Lodging, Restaurant & Leisure Management Access Forum in Las Vegas, he conveyed the prevailing view that despite good intentions, the implementation had missed the mark. This candid revelation emerged from a conversation first illuminated by Inside Asian Gaming, spotlighting how international gamblers seemingly renounced this tailored experience.

Macau, an insignia of opulence and chance, was navigating uncharted waters with its first retendering of casino licenses in two decades. Amid this momentous climate, operators were enticed with incentives; tantalizing tax breaks were dangled before them, contingent upon their capacity to magnetize foreign tourists to their gaming tables.

In practice, this ambitious regulation demanded the creation of spaces within casinos loaded with special gaming chips, the flow of which could be meticulously traced, guaranteeing operators enjoyed their promised fiscal perks. Nonetheless, Hornbuckle noted a palpable resistance to these enclosures. Gamblers craved the vibrant, unfettered landscapes of the general casino floor, as opposed to the solitary confines of these exclusive enclaves.

Delving deeper, Hornbuckle elaborated on the discordance between intention and outcome. The very motive of these foreigner-oriented quarters was to distinctively monitor overseas gamblers for the sake of a differentiated tax rate. Yet, as it became increasingly clear, the segmentation only served to dampen the spirits of these players, forcing them away from the dynamic atmosphere they sought to bask in, thereby alienating the very audience it aimed to court.

In navigating this conundrum, MGM Resorts pivoted towards technological sophistication, investing in Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip technology. This evolution allowed for the stealthy tracking of foreign patrons’ betting patterns and chip movement without segregating them into isolation – a masterful stroke marrying analytic precision with social fluidity.

Galaxy Entertainment and Melco Resorts & Entertainment, spurred by this revelation, have since followed in MGM’s footsteps, revealing plans to incorporate RFID tech into their operations. Indeed, this has emerged as an elegant solution to balance the demands of governance with the desires of gamble seekers.

Macau’s reliance on its neighbors for casino traffic – with a staggering 91% of its visitors in 2019 hailing from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan – has led to persistent calls from China’s governance for diversification, urging the famed gambling enclave to broaden its allure and enrich its offerings with varied non-gambling amenities.

As per promises stitched into the fabric of their renewed licensing agreements, casino operators have pledged billions towards reshaping the skyline and experience of Macau; an act that pledges fealty to the city’s grand vision of becoming a more universally appealing leisure destination.

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