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Macau ponders the future even as tourists and gamblers return

Macau’s streets were crowded in the run-up to Lunar New Year after the sudden lifting of pandemic controls, but things are far from normal as China’s casino hub grapples with questions about its future. Mainland Chinese tourists filled the winding passageways leading to the historic ruins of Saint Paul’s, and shops selling local snacks such as almond biscuits and jerky had trouble keeping up. AFP. Tourists can return now, but Beijing wants the former Portuguese colony to diversify its economy based on casinos. President Xi Jinping led a years-long anti-corruption campaign that curbed money laundering and gambling. But quitting gambling – and the huge tax revenue generated by casinos – will be hard to break the habit. “The government has an inherent conflict,” gaming consultant David Green told AFP. not playing games, but… he needs to be aware of maintaining his income stream.” The city of around 700,000 is the only place in China where casinos operate legally and has relied on mainland Chinese players as its economic lifeline for years. Macau’s gaming revenue fell to an all-time low of 42 billion patacas ($5.2 billion) last year after the government shut down most businesses at the height of the coronavirus wave. concessions to a multi-billion-dollar industry that generated six times more gambling revenue than Las Vegas before the outbreak of the pandemic. for non-gaming investments. Since then, the companies have committed a total of $14.9 billion to projects including theme parks, convention and exhibition centers, fine dining and performance venues. Former lawmaker Sulu Sou said it was a “step forward” for Macau to set clear diversification requirements, rather than relying on vague slogans as it has done for years. [Macau] government to put these requirements in black and white,” he told AFP. Sou pointed to the downfall of “trash king” Alvin Chau, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison last week for organizing illegal gambling on a massive scale. was a major signal to society that even when we get back to normal, we can no longer use the old ways of making a fortune,” Sou said. in Macau, operating VIP rooms and providing betting credits. According to Credit Suisse analysts, VIP guests generated about 15 percent of the industry’s profits before the pandemic, but most of that would have “permanently disappeared” due to regulatory issues, according to Credit Suisse analysts. the long-standing campaign against capital flight and cross-border gambling continued, not toned down,” they wrote earlier this month. The legacy of the pandemic continues. sudden decision to abandon its signature zero-Covid policy. For residents such as pharmacist Mariana Soares, reopening culminated in nearly three years of unrest and economic stagnation – but it also came with a sense of whiplash. “It’s a shock to the system,” she told AFP. “Suddenly everyone comes and it seems like everything that happened before is erased.” Dance studio owner Kam Pang said he was closing his business after two “mentally exhausting” years, adding that he had lost up to $25,000 when the government ordered businesses to close. “We couldn’t do business because suddenly we were shut down for half a month,” he said. Eager to make the virus a thing of the past, Macau officials doubled theirs for the New Year’s celebrations in the hope that the boom could be sustained. High-end hotels were fully booked over the festive period and officials said weekend visitor arrivals had returned to about half of pre-pandemic levels. Revenues from mass gaming should be up to 55 percent. pre-pandemic level by the end of the year and 85 percent. in 2024, according to Credit Suisse analysts. Soares told AFP that the pandemic had changed the way she viewed her hometown and that she would consider leaving for better economic opportunities. “Macau will bounce back, I just don’t know if it will go back to its heyday,” she said. Pang said he believes Macau is “slowly establishing new ways to survive.” “The question is will people want to come to Macau not to gamble but for something else.” hol/jta/dhc

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