Macau offers a safe bet amid crackdown

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 March, 2005, 12:00am

Mainland punters escape campaign against gambling

A rising number of mainland visitors continue to boost Macau's gaming industry, despite a nationwide crackdown on gambling that has forced the closure of many casinos in neighbouring countries.

Macau casino employees and pawnshop owners said that visitors from the mainland accounted for 70 to 80 per cent of their clientele.

At the Greek Mythology Casino, about 1,500 of 2,000 daily customers were mainlanders, said a supervisor.

Casino Lisboa reported that more than 70 per cent of its punters were from the mainland.

The ability to speak Putonghua has become increasingly important in Macau's gaming industry and the Greek Mythology Casino regularly sends its employees across the border to study the language.

And business is booming: the industry has hired nearly 50 per cent more staff over the past year after the introduction of the individual traveller scheme in July 2003.

Mainlanders made around 9.53 million visits to Macau last year, an impressive increase of 66 per cent over 2003, Xinhua reported on Saturday. Their trips contributed more than $27 billion to the city's economy.

But while casinos in Macau are doing a roaring trade, the fate of gaming establishments on the mainland and in neighbouring countries tells a different story.

More than 80,000 people have been arrested under an anti-gambling campaign that was launched last month, leading to the closure of about 90 casinos around mainland border areas.

State media have been careful not to mention Macau when reporting on the anti-gambling campaign.

Caught in a dilemma between enforcing the crackdown and stabilising Macau's economy, Beijing had adopted a strategy that gives a green light to Macau's gaming industry, said political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu.

'The central government strikes especially hard on gambling activities that don't benefit China,' he said.

'Macau relies heavily on the gambling industry, which generates over 70 per cent of its tax revenue.

'The root of the problem does not lie in Macau,' he added.

'It lies with the rampant epidemic [of gambling] inside the government.'