The South African gambling public has surprised everyone by making a more than satisfactory return to favourite casino hubs in July. The government finally gave the green light for casinos to open up, after being shut down for so long due to the coronavirus. Ten out of Sun International’s eleven casinos are now operating in South Africa. The group reported this week that it has paid out over R22.4 million in jackpots in the first two weeks of reopening. Two new millionaires were created overnight and over 140 jackpots worth over R50K each were also paid out.
“We were quite surprised in the first two weeks when we opened in July, we were probably trading at about 50 to 60% of prior year levels,” said Graham Wood, Sun International’s group COO for Hospitality.
This is not bad for an industry which is operating under very tough conditions, with many restrictions still in place. For example, there is still a ban on the sale of alcohol, which affects revenue. Also, there is a 9 pm curfew in place, meaning that casinos have to close up by 8.30 pm, and can no longer stay open 24/7.
Casinos have also had to reduce the maximum capacity on their casino floors to 50% and restrict entrance into the casinos to Sun MVG members only, to allow for easy tracking. Sun International has committed to turn off every second slot machine in order to maintain social distancing, and has also installed physical shields between slot machines and at gaming tables. Despite this, Wood said that Sun International was still generating some positive cash in the casinos. He said that as long as this was the case, the casinos would remain open since it allowed the group’s employees to earn decent salaries and give its gamers some entertainment.
“What we’re tending to see, and now because of the curfew, people with close drive time to your casinos are the ones that are going to frequent you,” said Wood. “You’re not going to get those people who drive across from town to go and gamble. They’re going to tend to stay at their local casino.”
Sun City Resort is the only Sun International property which remains closed for now. The resort employs around 2,500 people but the group has been unable to justify reopening until cross border travel restrictions are lifted. Wood said that even though it was possible in theory to reopen Sun City, it would only be able to serve the group’s Rustenberg market. ”The costs of opening that casino for just the Rustenburg market, when Sun City is largely a destination,” said Wood, adding that the casino numbers at Sun City are only about 40% of the resort’s total revenue.
Sun International reported some big wins paid out at some of its properties in the first two weeks of July. These included: