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MGM scaling back Chinese New Year celebrations in Macao

One of the three Las Vegas gaming companies operating in Macao said Friday it will scale back Lunar New Year celebrations as a precaution against the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus after a second case of the disease was reported there.

Macao’s Government Tourism Offices ordered the cancellation of three major public celebrations for the Year of the Rat: a Golden Dragon Parade, a float parade and a fireworks display.

Two casino companies, including Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, made similar adjustments.

“We are scaling back the size for one of the Lunar New Year celebrations, per the guidelines of the government of Macao,” MGM spokeswoman Debra DeShong said. “We are in close consultation with the local authorities and will continually review our plans in light of their guidance.”

Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese reiterated a statement the company issued Thursday.

“Our leadership teams in the U.S. and Asia are working closely with local officials and taking the appropriate steps to protect our team members and guests,” he said. “We are prepared to follow any additional protocols or guidance as they are made available.”

Another major operator also decided to scale back.

SJM Holdings Ltd., a holding company for Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, which operates 20 casinos on the Macao peninsula, including the Grand Lisboa, and on the island of Taipa, opted to cancel its traditional gala dinner event opening the Chinese New Year because of the virus outbreak.

Representatives of Wynn Resorts Ltd. did not respond to requests for comments on event cancellations.

The second case of the virus surfaced Wednesday in Macao is a 66-year-old male tourist traveling from Wuhan. The day before, a 52-year-old woman was hospitalized after falling ill following her arrival from Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province.

Speaking at a Thursday news conference, Macao Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng announced the public event cancellations and urged residents to stay home for Chinese New Year. He added that those going outdoors or to areas with large gatherings should wear health masks.

He also said casino workers would be required to wear masks.

Asian gaming analysts said that they believed there could be short-term financial impact on casino companies but that problems would end quickly.

“There are likely to be cancellations of some Chinese New Year casino and junket parties and events,” which would signal “softer business than anticipated,” during Chinese New Year, wrote Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd. analysts Vitaly Umansky, Eunice Lee and Kelsey Zhu.

Previous estimates for gross gaming revenue in January and February, expected to be between down 1 percent to up 2 percent compared with the previous year, would “likely be too bullish,” the analysts said.

Sanford C. Bernstein and another brokerage, J.P. Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd., believed any impact of the China coronavirus outbreak on demand for Macao gaming services would be short but followed by “robust recovery.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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