Fears of Beijing gambling crackdown sends casino stocks crashing

HONG KONG, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Casino stocks from Australia’s Crown Resorts to Las Vegas Sands tumbled after a report that Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, would limit cash withdrawals as part of a Beijing-led crackdown on illicit outflows.

The South China Morning Post, citing a finance industry source, reported late on Thursday that Macau would halve the amount of cash that China UnionPay cardholders can withdraw from automated teller machines (ATMs) in the territory.

The move by the Monetary Authority of Macau would cut daily limit for clients of China's largest provider of bank cards to 5,000 patacas ($626) from 10,000 currently, the newspaper reported. It takes effect from Saturday. (

The report triggered sharp drops in shares of U.S. and other casino operators, which make much of their profit in Macau and are still recovering from an anti-graft campaign under President Xi Jinping.

Monthly revenues from Macau only returned to growth in August this year and have since posted four months of growth thanks to new resorts bringing in casual gamblers, prompting analysts to call the bottom.

ATM withdrawals are not a major source of cash for most Chinese gamblers, especially VIP players known as high rollers. Many average players have also used UnionPay to purchase goods, then returning them for a cash refund and gambling that. But the new policy is an indication of concern.

Shares of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd fell as much as 17 percent, Las Vegas Sands Corp declined 14 percent, Wynn Resorts Ltd fell 12 percent and MGM Resorts International fell 7 percent.

Crown Resorts shares were down over 6 percent at 0114 GMT. MGM China was down more than 8 percent, while Galaxy Entertainment was down over 7 percent.

Ric Spooner, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, said Beijing’s anti-corruption drive has turned out not to be the short term window-dressing exercise some had expected.

“The Chinese government has been very consistent about this and continues to do things aimed at limiting the problems of corruption, and that suggests that the lower levels of demand seen in Macau are fairly permanent.”

The reported ATM withdrawal limit “is just more evidence that China is serious in its intent on limiting this sort of behaviour”, Spooner said.

Curbs on the daily cash withdrawal limit in Macau come as China steps up measures to stem capital outflows more broadly.

Chinese State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) has been vetting transfers abroad worth $5 million or more and was increasing scrutiny of major outbound deals, even those with prior approval.

The yuan skidded to more than eight-year lows at the end of November and China’s foreign exchange reserves fell far more than expected in the month to $3.05 trillion, the lowest in nearly six years. ($1 = 7.9810 patacas) (Reporting by Clare Jim in Hong Kong, Clara Ferreira-Marques in Singapore, Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast)