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Gambling hub at crossroads as revenues decline

Selena Li
Updated: Mar 6,2015 8:44 AM     China Daily

The Macao Special Administrative Region is standing at a critical juncture in transforming from a gaming hub into a world-leading tourism and leisure center with a diversified economy, a senior Macao official said at a meeting with deputies to the National People’s Congress on March 5.

It is a major test for the SAR government to act proactively before the gambling industry hits an inflection point, and Macao must chart a careful course at this critical time, said Li Gang, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Macao at a meeting with Macao NPC deputies.

“A midterm review of the current development of the gaming industry scheduled this year is expected to build consensus among society on how to meet the challenge,” Li said.

The latest data from the SAR’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau shows that Macao’s gross gaming revenue dropped 48.6 percent in February to 19.5 billion patacas ($2.45 billion), its steepest ever year-on-year decline.

Li said he believes that the downward pressure on the mainland economy has resulted in a significant decline of customers to VIP rooms, which is the major cause of the recent sluggish revenue for gaming houses. The crackdown on corruption is just part of the problem, Li said.

“We noticed that some of the casinos are not performing their promises to diversify their business and provide more services for retailing, conferencing and exhibitions,” Li said.

The review is not about reissuing the existing gambling licenses, due in 2020, said Lionel Leong Vai Tac, Macao’s secretary for economy and finance.

“The gaming companies control the most resources in Macao. We should take full advantage of this review to change the wait-and-see stance the industry takes. And we believe it’s reasonable to grow nongaming industries with the help of gambling houses, “ Leung said.

To avoid derailing Macao’s phenomenal growth-its per capita GDP now ranks fourth in the world-the city is gearing itself up as a leading global tourism and leisure center, as well as a major platform to facilitate trade and business between Portuguese speaking regions.

However, such a diversified economy, Li said, cannot be realized at the cost of sacrificing gaming interests, which are the pillar industry of Macao.

Instead, the SAR’s government should encourage the gaming houses to embrace the transition, a period estimated to last 20 to 30 years, he said.