The casino-driven boom in Macau has by some economic measures made it the richest place in Asia. Per capita gross domestic product reached a staggering US$36,357 last year. Gaming revenues outstripped Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined in the first quarter. Yet these impressive figures disguise serious problems facing Macau. Even a casual visit to the place reveals that not everyone is benefiting from the boom. Inflation has reached almost 10 per cent. Property prices and rents have risen faster than salaries. The hiring of illegal workers is rampant, especially in construction. Meanwhile, the gaming industry has lured a whole generation of young people away from school - and other jobs with more potential - because of high pay and low entrance requirements. Banned from betting in their own casinos, many young dealers have become gambling addicts by placing wagers in rival casinos and incurring heavy debts. The simmering social tensions and widening wealth gap are issues that the central government has raised with Macau, which cannot afford to allow the breakneck development of the gaming industry in recent years to continue indefinitely. It is therefore wise of the Macau government to announce it will not only stop granting new licences and land for casino development, but also strictly control the number of new gaming tables and slot machines in existing casinos. Speaking in the legislature yesterday, Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah admitted, in effect, that the current expansion rate of Macau's gaming industry was unsustainable. It is threatening to put too much strain on land and resources. Unless the government allows the industry to consolidate and starts to tackle the underlying social problems it has created, Macau is in danger of mortgaging its future for the quick gains of today. Four large-scale resort hotels - the Crown, Venetian, MGM Grand and Ponte 16 - have opened since last year. While gaming revenues have surged to record heights, the Macau government must now work to make sure the wealth these new casinos generate trickles down to the rest of the population. And while the Macau government has pursued the right policy in liberalising the industry, it is in danger of giving rise to unhealthy competition. Average employee earnings in the gaming industry, for example, fell for the first time in three years during the fourth quarter of last year. The total number of people employed by the industry also slipped slightly for the first time to 44,743 in the same quarter, from 45,033 in the second quarter, after more than doubling over the past three years. These are signs that the industry may have reached saturation. Up to now, a single licence has been a free pass for its holder to open as many casinos as it likes. Sensibly, the government says this practice will from now on be regulated. The hotel, resort and gaming businesses now need a period to consolidate and strengthen their operations and services. It is with this in mind that the Macau government is calling for a check on the industry's growth. Any economy that is built on a single industry is in a risky position. The good times are still rolling, and no one wants the party to end. But it is in such times that responsible governments should start planning for the future.