Macau pumps premium

The hot buzzword in Macau, premium mass market, remains difficult to define. But perhaps more important, the strategy is unproven and the consequences far from certain. That’s hardly the optimal situation when each casino operator is spending billions of dollars on new resorts claiming to target this amorphous market segment.

In the July issue of Macau Business, I examined reasons behind the rise of the premium segment (see page 66).

In Asia Times this week, I wrote about contradictions in defining premium customers among resort executives and industry insiders.

The focus on premium customers, whether it’s a real phenomenon or not, underscores Macau’s continuing move upmarket that includes higher minimum bets at gaming tables and the addition of thousands of five-star hotel rooms, with little new supply in lower price categories.

Rising minimums mean players that want to bet less than HK$300 (about US$39) per hand must go to a betting terminal rather than a table in most casinos. It’s hard to feel like James Bond sitting at a screen betting units instead of chips and watching your cards or dice in a video window rather than feeling fresh table felt and cold, crisp chips as you go eyeball to eyeball with your adversary. And there’s no place for the Bond girl or guy without annoying the players next to you or in the row(s) of screens behind you.

With Macau’s constraints on tables and labor, casinos can justify trying to maximize revenue from their limited number of tables. But that’s not necessarily the best strategy to develop Macau as a well-rounded travel destination. With thousands more rooms and a host of new attractions due to open by 2017, Macau may better served by broadening its focus beyond the thin slice of China’s wealthiest.

The real opportunity lies with China’s fast growing middle class. China Market Research Group (CMR) associate principal Ben Cavender said at Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia 2013 in May that China’s international travelers are becoming more numerous, adventurous and demanding.

These tourists may not see gambling as a primary reason to visit, but one of the many entertainment and leisure options they want to sample. If these visitors, paying top dollar for lodging, don’t feel welcome and respected on Macau’s gaming floors, integrated resorts in Philippines, Cambodia, and, since last month, Vietnam already have the welcome mat for them.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.