Macau casinos have done their best to soften the financial impact of COVID-19 on their workforces. But with China upholding its “zero-COVID” policy and the sprawling resorts remaining nearly lifeless, job cuts continue.
Last Friday, Macau’s Statistics and Census Service revealed that the gaming industry’s labor numbers continue to decline. The six casino operators combined to employ 53,592 people at the end of June. That is a 2.3% drop — or 1,247 positions — from the last reported tally at the end of 2021.
The Statistics and Census Service produces biannual employment reports for the gaming industry.
Industry Needs Lifeline
Macau’s gaming concession holders have done much to appease the local government amid the pandemic. The resorts procured and donated personal protective equipment during the early days of COVID-19, and have since allowed their hotels to serve as designated quarantine and medical observation facilities.
Urged to avoid layoffs at all costs, casinos have spent tens of millions of dollars a month maintaining as many employees as possible. That’s despite their vacant hotel rooms and deserted gaming floors.
The gaming employment report added that the average monthly salary for full-time workers was MOP23,270 (US$2,880) as of June 2022. That’s down almost 2% from 2021.
The government labor agency said there were less than 20 job openings in the gaming industry when the worker tally was completed.
“The drop in the vacancy rate to near zero reflects that the demand for manpower in the gaming industry has remained low due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic,” a Statistics and Census Service statement read.
Gross gaming revenue (GGR) remains well below pre-pandemic business. Through August, the casinos in 2022 have won approximately $3.57 billion. During the same eight months in 2019, GGR exceeded more than $24.52 billion.
Many gaming analysts focused on Macau believe the casinos will return to near-pandemic play in the years ahead. But pinpointing a recovery is difficult because it’s largely dependent on when China eventually does away with “zero-COVID.”
“Zero-COVID” requires lockdowns when new cases are identified. But it’s an unsustainable concept, says William Kirby, a professor of China Studies at Harvard University.
There is no such thing as ‘zero-COVID.’ As the Omicron variant spreads to China’s capital city, Beijing, the question is not if, but when and how, China will begin to ‘live with COVID-19’ rather than continue to impose endless lockdowns,” Kirby wrote in a June op-ed published in Science.
Kirby believes China must do away with “zero-COVID,” and there’s hope it will in the coming months. The professor says “a self-isolating China is a threat to itself and a loss to the world.”
“China’s deep respect for science still provides an opening for better collaboration with the West in COVID-19 and future pandemics,” Kirby concluded.
While Macau’s gaming revenue has recovered to only about 18% of its 2019 level, casinos in the Philippines and Singapore have respectively rebounded to 79% and 68% of their pre-pandemic business.
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