Macau’s attempts to return to something of a vaguely normal life have been boosted this week with the confirmation some foreign tourists will be able to play at their casinos once again.

The enclave – Asia’s answer to Las Vegas or Monte Carlo – has endured numerous lockdowns over the past two years in the battle to fight Covid-19 infection rates.

The latest restrictions closed Macau’s casinos for more than two weeks, caused stock prices to drop, and sent thousands of people into isolation under China’s hardline “zero Covid” policy.

It sparked concerns the local economy – which is hugely dependent on gambling proceeds – may struggle to bounce back from yet another hit.

But the good news coming out of Macau is that foreign tourists, considered crucial to the economic recovery of the region, are to be allowed back within Macau’s borders.

Macau casino
Macau’s casinos are desperate to get foreign tourists back through their doors

Foreign Tourists In Macau Returning

Indeed, since the Covid-19 outbreak early in 2020 only Chinese tourists and foreigners on business have been able to visit Macau for more than a few hours. In fact, no foreigners have been allowed in Macau for purely leisure purposes since the pandemic began.

Now, though, local authorities and the Chinese government are easing those restrictions. The only catch for foreigners wanting to visit Macau for any sustained length of time is that they will have to go through China first.

According to the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), foreigners who have spent 10 days or more in mainland China will qualify for travel to Macau. They must also post negative Covid-19 tests, while foreigners arriving into China still need to complete a mandatory seven-day isolation before there.

It’s likely that some tourists will go through the stages required to gain access to Macau’s world-leading casinos. But for most, the 10-day lay period spent in China may prove too much of a hindrance.

Macau’s Casino Gamble

And this is, of course, a big worry for Macau. Its six major casinos are in the process of applying for new 10-year licences, which replace the 20-year agreements that came to an end this year. These licences already give the Chinese government greater oversight on each casino’s operations, while there is a requirement to incentivize foreign trinkets from nations other than China.

But attracting players from the US, Europe, Australia and Japan is difficult when Covid-19 restrictions prevent free movement. Indeed, the fact Las Vegas and Monte Carlo are operating close to normal again means the world’s high-rollers have other places to make their fortunes.

Macau is $18.2bn down on gross gaming revenue this year, compared to this time in 2019. Weekly visitor numbers are ticking steadily towards 100,000, and casinos are able to begin marketing campaigns once again.

The problem, though, is that Macau still needs gamers from mainland China to sustain its economy. Without an open border with the rest of the world, it will be near-impossible for casinos to fulfil the requirements of the new licences.

Joe Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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