Hit by China’s anti-graft campaign, Macau sees rise in reported crimes and falling revenues

Loan-sharking cases more than double, with more than one illegal detention a day recorded in the first half of 2016

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 10:11pm

Loan-sharking cases and unlawful detentions surged in Macau over the first six months of the year, as the city scrambles to diversify its gambling industry and new projects continue to be built in the world’s biggest gaming hub.

Cases of loan-sharking more than doubled in the first half of 2016. There were 233 such crimes, compared to 153 in the same period last year – an increase of 52.3 per cent year-on-year, police data showed.

Unlawful detentions also went up 27.1 per cent, as authorities recorded 216 cases – an average of more than one illegal detention a day. The victims of such crimes are usually gamblers who are unable to pay their debts and end up being forcibly detained.

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According to official statistics, 170 victims were from the mainland and 32 were Hong Kong citizens. Overall, Macau recorded 814 cases of suspected gaming-related crimes in the first half of 2016 – a jump of 13.5 per cent. The Public Prosecutions Office saw a total of 924 suspects.

In 2013, before the Chinese government’s anti-graft campaign hit Macau, there was a total of 944 gaming-related cases in the full year, showing the big impact of the mainland crackdown.

The campaign has deterred wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers and junket operators whose main job was to attract high-rollers to Macau and lend them money.

VIP rooms, which used to generate the bulk of revenues, started closing down in significant numbers early last year.

Casino gross gaming revenue fell 11.4 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2016 to approximately MOP107.79 billion (HK$102.4 billion). In an unprecedented trend, monthly revenues have consecutively dropped since June 2014.

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“There is no obvious evidence that the current adjustment period in gaming revenue has brought negative consequences to Macau’s overall security situation,” the city’s Secretary for Security Wong Sio-chak said this week.

Although Wong mentioned most of the gaming-related crimes have occurred inside or near casinos, he acknowledged an illegal detention case in July and another earlier this month, which led to the deaths of two people who had reportedly borrowed money. Both cases did not happen within casinos.

“These cases show that starting from July there has been a shift of gaming-related debt disputes and crimes to outside casino premises, and that deserves our attention,” Wong noted.

There were, in total, 7,135 reported crimes in Macau in the first half of the year, which corresponded to an increase of 1.4 per cent.