Casinos in the world's biggest gambling hub of Macau posted a 22.6 percent revenue jump in November from a year earlier, marking the sixteenth consecutive month of growth, government data showed on Friday.
Revenue reached 23 billion patacas (£2.12 billion), data from Macau's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau showed, the second highest monthly tally this year and compared with analysts' growth estimates of 16 to 22 percent.
The result reflects continued recovery for casinos in the only Chinese territory where casino gambling is legal. Revenue dropped to five-year lows during a central government campaign from 2014 against shows of wealth among public officials, at a time when China's economic growth was also slowing.
While revenue is recovering, it is still below the all-time highs hit in the run-up to the government campaign, hovering around 2011 levels, showed data from Thomson Reuters Datastream.
Analysts estimate full-year revenue growth of 18 to 20 percent for 2017, at $33 billion to $34 billion, mainly due to the lucrative but highly volatile, big-spending VIP segment. That would mark the first annual growth in three years.
Revenue growth has been stronger for operators of casinos on Macau's Cotai Strip, such as Sands China Ltd <1928.HK>, Wynn Macau Ltd <1128.HK>, Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd <0027.HK> and Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd <MLCO.O>.
On the other hand, SJM Holdings Ltd <0880.HK> and MGM China Holdings Ltd <2282.HK> have seen their market share erode while their Cotai Strip resorts have been under development. MGM's venue is due to open in January while SJM's is not likely to open until closer to 2019, analysts said.
Revenue this year has been boosted by the return of so-called whales who wager around 1 million yuan ($151,308) per bet. But sustainability of the VIP segment's strength is uncertain, analysts said, citing macro-economic factors such as a slowdown in money supply growth and real estate pricing.
Meanwhile, pressure on casino operators to develop non-gaming attractions - favoured by a government keen to diversify Macau's economy - is increasing as authorities start to determine what will happen to the six operating casino licenses once they start to expire in 2020.
The government is yet to disclose the nature or timing of any bidding process. Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui has said mid-2018 would be a suitable time to provide more details.
Tighter regulation is also likely to create uncertainty for casino operators, said analysts, as the government streamlines and strengthens the gaming industry.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Sunil Nair and Christopher Cushing)