After a rough start to the year, the gaming ETF, VanEck Gaming ETF (BJK - Get Report) , has experienced more than an 11% increase in the past six months mostly tied to the recovery of the Macau gaming region in mainland China.
Macau is the only place for legalized casino gambling in the country of 1.5 billion, and now following 26 consecutive months of gaming revenue declines, the region just concluded its third consecutive month of revenue growth leading to renewed hope for the region's viability.
While the reasons for the turnaround aren't yet entirely clear, Macau's downturn was pinned on the Chinese government's crackdown on corruption, which led to a decline in business from high-rolling government officials. However, Macau has successfully pivoted from being just a destination for gamblers to a resort town that attracts middle class visitors from China and abroad. That was no accident.
At the end of 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the region to diversify and move towards resorts. "It is important for Macau to adopt a global, nationwide, future-oriented and long-term perspective, formulate appropriate plans and blueprints for its development and promote sound economic and social development," Xi said at the time.
That type of turnaround takes time but Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts (WYNN - Get Report) , which just opened the Wynn Palace in Macau, has already seen the effects of the changes. Wynn has literally been on a roll in Macau, outperforming the wider industry there while reporting an increase in revenue of 11.5% in the third quarter. The company's overall EBITDA increased more than 9.1%.
In a November 4 note analysts at Trefis said that Macau's casino industry has hit bottom and is likely to continue to grow in the coming quarters. "Much of this improvement can be attributed to the newly opened casinos from Wynn and Las Vegas Sands (LVS - Get Report) in the third quarter quarter of 2016. But as just 200 new tables were allotted to the new casinos combined, we believe the number of visitors have increased due to the non-gambling attractions included in Wynn Palace and The Parisian (LVS's new casino)," the firm said.
Meanwhile, Trefis believes that the opening of The Parisian in Macau will be the spark for Las Vegas Sands' turnaround. The company had reported revenue declines for seven straight quarters before topping analysts' earnings expectations in the previous quarter. The firm notes that the more recently opened Parisian outperformed the Wynn Palace in the region in terms of visitors and social media buzz despite having fewer operating days during the quarter. The Parisian opened on September 13.
Overall Las Vegas Sands' China subsidiary, Sands China, saw a 15.3% increase in adjusted property EBITDA, which the firm attributed to improvements in mass market gaming and a 19% increase in property visitations.
After reporting an 8.8% rise in year over year revenue to $2.73 billion in October (vs. analysts' 5.5% growth expectations), a 7.4% rise in September, and a 1.1% increase in August, faith in the region as a growth driver is once again rising.
When it's on a roll, Macau has proven to be the shot in the arm the gaming industry needs. It's now up to the gaming companies to keep the Chinese public interested, and that's something the industry should be adept at by now.