SkyCity reports encouraging trends since reopening

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
SkyCity bans junkets immediately

New Zealand casino operator SkyCity Entertainment Group said business has been “encouraging” since the company reopened its three local casinos following their lengthy COVID-19 closure.

Calvin Ayre reports in a trading update released Wednesday, SkyCity said it was encouraged that local gamblers were returning to its Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown properties since their May 14 reopening.

The casinos are operating with new health and safety precautions that dramatically limit attendance and the number of gaming positions that can be occupied at any given time.

The Queenstown property’s Wharf Casino remains closed but domestic activity at Hamilton and the company’s flagship Auckland property has been “very pleasing, particularly in electronic gaming machines”.

Table game activity was said to be “steadily improving from a slow start” likely due to New Zealand’s borders remaining closed to international high rollers.

SkyCity’s hotel occupancy is averaging only 32 per cent, although this ramps up to 90 per cent on weekends.

Food and beverage sales are “growing steadily” but the company expects its non-gaming amenities won’t truly recover until international borders reopen.

SkyCity is also still restricting access to its Kiwi casinos to members of its Premier Rewards loyalty program.

Nonetheless, the company says Auckland and Hamilton are “currently running at levels that are profitable and cash positive”.

Queenstown went unmentioned.

SkyCity was forced to close its three Kiwi properties as well as its casinos in Adelaide in mid-March as governments ordered the closure of all non-essential retail businesses.

SkyCity laid off 200 staff in early April and shed “around 700 more employees” last month as it pondered the possibility that it could take years for business to return to its former levels.

SkyCity chief executive Graeme Stephens said Wednesday that laying off those 700 staff “remains necessary” to ensure the security of “thousands of jobs that will still remain”.

Stephens said he hoped the “initial positive indications” at the reopened properties can be sustained.

SkyCity was forced into an embarrassing public about-face last week after applying to the New Zealand Gambling Commission for a permanent relaxing of the rule that compels the casino to operate at least one gaming table at each of its casino.

The Commission authorised SkyCity to temporarily operate on an EGM-only basis at its Hamilton and Queenstown properties.

That decision, news of which was reported in local media, was greeted with howls of outrage from anti-gambling campaigners who view EGMs as highly addictive.

SkyCity subsequently withdrew the application, saying it had only been seeking “operational flexibility in the uncertain environment.”

SkyCity announces more job cuts amid the coronavirus pandemic

SkyCity has announced that it has let go 700 more staff members amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand is one of the countries that identified and contained COVID-19 most quickly and effectively.

Its response to the pandemic was swift and thorough, but hasn’t been enough to spare more job losses at the casino, which has venues in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Casino Aus reported last month that New Zealand did so well at the restrictive level 3 recently that officials this week moved to Level 2.

This means New Zealanders can resume most of their regular activities.

With safety measures in place, businesses are allowed to open, schools resume classes and travel between regions can begin again.

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