Macau’s Labor Lack Could Diminish Casino Rebound

Up to this point in 2023, the gaming industry has seen a significant resurgence in Macau, however this may be hampered by a shallow labor pool.

MGM Cotai employees at a baccarat table. A labor shortfall in Macau could hamper the gaming recovery. (Image: Reuters )

After three tumultuous years of closures and limited activity, the special administrative region (SAR) was welcomed back to full capacity this year as China relaxed some of the world’s most stringent coronavirus measures. The enclave’s gaming industry, which relies on travelers, is now thriving again, yet there is an insufficient number of employees available to permit operators to open their full inventory of guestrooms.

According to sources close to the situation, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that some five-star hotels in Macau are only marketing half or fewer of their rooms, while others have discontinued daily housekeeping services due to the labor shortage. No details were given as to which venues are affected.

Macau’s six license holders are Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts & Entertainment, MGM China, Sands China, SJM Holdings, and Wynn Macau. All these companies run at least one casino-hotel that holds a five-star rating from various travel and leisure reviewers.

Certain Operators Can Deal with Macau Labor Shortage

The repercussions of Macau’s shallow labor pool are widespread, yet the impact is not uniform across all six gaming operators.

For example, industry analysts believe Sands China and Wynn Macau will be able to snatch market share from their rivals, as neither of these companies had to let go of large numbers of staff at the outset of the pandemic. Between them, these two operators manage seven Macau integrated resorts, several of which have five-star rankings.

Another issue that gaming companies are contending with is local job preferences. Macau residents working in the gaming industry are keen to take on roles such as dealers, pit bosses, or back-office roles. Conversely, they tend to avoid roles at the lower end of the spectrum, such as housekeeping and restaurant work.

This means that operators are reliant on workers from mainland China and Southeast Asia to fill these roles, but 44,000 non-local employees have been laid off since the pandemic began, according to Bloomberg.

Other Problems Adding to Macau Labor Shortage

Other issues are exacerbating the Macau labor shortage. Gaming companies have to grapple with a lengthy approval process to bring non-China citizens to the SAR to work in the casino hotels.

In addition, a lot of the workers from mainland China and Southeast Asia who filled customer-facing roles before the pandemic have either gone on to different professions in China, or are employed in gaming venues in Singapore and Vietnam.

Due to the inability to market a greater number of rooms, operators have been raising rates for the rooms they can sell, but this is not proving popular with customers. Some potential travelers to Macau are complaining about room prices, while those who do make the journey feel that the high cost of accommodation does not equate to quality, as they are paying more for a lower level of service.