Macau's Gambling History
|16th Century||Way before anyone thought of online gambling, betting in Macau dates all the way back to the 16th century when the Portuguese colony was established. Gaming was popular among the construction workers who emigrated from Mainland China; and since there were no gaming rules, the gambling stalls were spread over the streets.|
|1847||The Portuguese Government legalize gambling in Macau.|
|1937||Initially, Chinese games of chance prevailed with different companies and successively awarded the monopoly concession. Gradually other games such as baccarat were introduced. Horse racing also become a popular form of gambling.|
|1962||The Government awarded the monopoly to Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macao (STDM) which maintained sole control of casino gambling in Macau for many years. STDM is still very much in the picture, but they no longer have a monopoly.|
|1999||Control of Macau reverted to Mainland China, and Macau became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. However, casino gambling remained legal in Macau, even though it was and still is illegal in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).|
|2002||The Macau Government awarded three different companies’ concessions for casino gambling, the Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM), a subsidiary of STDM, Galaxy Casino, S.A. and Wynn Resorts S.A. These companies have subsequently sold sub-concessions to other operators.|
|2004||The first American run casino in Macau, The Sands Macao, opened. More recent notable American-run additions to the growing Macau casino scene include The Venetian, Wynn, Encore and MGM Grand.|
|2006||Macau exceeded the Las Vegas Strip by becoming the world’s biggest gambling center.|
Macau’s Gambling Laws
All Macau casinos are regulated by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, (more commonly known by its Portuguese acronym, DICJ.)
- Previously the minimum age to gamble Macau casinos was 21 for Macau residents but 18 for foreign visitors.
- A new law went into effect in November 2012 making 21 the minimum legal age both for wagering in Macau casino or working in one. Any individual found to be violating the law is subject to a fine ranging from USD $125 to USD $1,253.
- Additional fines ranging from USD $1,253 to USD $62,650 can be imposed on casinos found not to be complying. All winnings from those under age 21 must be handed over to the Government.
- Online gambling in all of China, including Macau, remains illegal. In Macau, legal online gambling is limited to horse racing and sports betting as offered by two local companies. Otherwise online gambling in Macau continues to be completely unregulated.
- There are no laws concerning the regulation of online gambling sites. Meanwhile none of the casinos licensed to operate in Macau can open sites for online wagering since there is no licensing system.
- Recently a warning was issued to gamblers living in Macau. Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) said, Macau “has never issued any online interactive gaming license to any companies. Hence, all online gambling websites in Macau are considered illegal operations.”
- People in Macau who wish to gamble on poker or casino games online can log on to offshore websites that will accept them. No Macau-based company offers online betting on these games.
Online Gambling in Macau Today
Macau remains the only place in all of China where gambling is legal as of 2019. Unsurprisingly, millions of the Mainland residents cross the border to enjoy some of the action. In fact, of the 28 million visitors to Macau per year, more than half come from China’s Mainland.
More than half, who are there for gambling only, stay less than one day. They leave like they enter, with bags filled with hidden money! Although it is against the law for anyone from the Mainland to take out more than 20,000 Yuan (around USD $3,100), millions of people ignore the law and take their chances smuggling or using other methods.
Junkets are also a big business in Macau. High rolling gamblers are allotted enormous credit lines in order to gamble huge sums of money (way above normal casino limits), in private rooms with the junket operators taking a cut to their losses. Even though ‘promotion of gambling’ is considered a crime in Macau, the junket operators get around that because what crosses the border is paper rather than currency.
In addition, high end jewelry and watch shops are widespread across the casino floor, claiming to be selling the items, but in reality they serve as another means of loaning gamblers money. The customer ‘buys’ the jewelry item on credit, then immediately returns it for cash.
In 2013 the Macau gambling industry made international news, not only for maintaining its No.1 position as the gambling capital of the world, but for breaking its own incredible record for total gambling revenue.
Since that time Macau, like many land-based casinos, have dropped in overall revenue standings. The cause of such a drop is due to a crackdown by government officials to break up illegal activity and corruption. Macau’s overall revenue dropped by almost 35% in 2015.
Apart from casino gambling, the only other legal forms of gambling in Macau are parimutuel betting, the lottery and sports betting. However, all three account for only a tiny fraction of Macau’s enormous total gambling revenue, which is derived almost entirely from casino and online gambling.
Macau’s success has not gone unnoticed by other big Asian markets like the Philippines and Singapore, where casino and online gambling is now expanding rapidly. Japan and South Korea are other areas where the spread of legal gambling looks promising.
With the glittery casinos, a thriving economy and the Macau Government profiting from this, other countries regard Macau as a model for using people’s tendency to gamble to their own advantage. Prostitution and money laundering with suspected tie-ins to organized crime are common and the amount of problem gambling is also the rise.
The recent appearance of high-end casino hotel resorts such as The Venetian and MGM offering non-gambling activities like shopping malls and extravagant entertainment mark an attempt to clean up Macau’s image and make the area more attractive to tourists. To some extent these efforts have been successful as shown by the increase in both tourism and revenue.
However, even the so-called tourists are there primarily to gamble and to spend large amounts of money. The average bet of the so-called mass-market in Macau, not the high rollers on junkets, is at least $270.
Even with Macau’s phenomenal growth over the years there are current indications that its development is slowing down. This is a concern for the economic leaders of Macau as gambling and the retail and entertainment businesses that support it, constitutes as the only major industry. In 2018 the Macau casinos raked in $37.6 billion gaming revenue, however in April 2019 it dropped by 8.3%, being the biggest year-on-year drop since June 2016.
Problem Gambling in Macau
Research studies regarding the prevalence of problem gambling in Macau indicate a rise in recent years.
- In 2003, approximately 1.7% of residents ages 15-64 were said to have gambling problem
- In 2007 that figure was 2.6%
- In 2012 that figure was around 3%
- Along with the increase in problem gambling; marriage breakups, bankruptcy, robbery and suicide have all been on the rise
It is not just the visitors to the casinos who have been exhibiting signs of a gambling problem in increased numbers, but also the casino workers. Seeing the enormous amounts of money players are capable of winning and being right there on the premises, casino employees can be easily tempted.
In 2012 a law was passed to raise the minimum age to 21 for both gambling and working in a casino - this represents one of the attempts by the Government to address the problem. Its purpose is to ensure that young people in Macau would “not be influenced by the adverse effects of gambling until they are mentally mature.”
Another provision of the law is that it allows individual gamblers or family members, with the gambler’s consent, to call the DICJ hotline to request a casino two-year renewable entry ban. There are also several agencies like the Resilience Counseling Centre for Problem Gambling, Caritas Macau Family Services, and the Family Wellness Centre and Rehabilitation Centre which offer counseling services to problem gamblers.
No matter how problematic gambling may be for those who choose to gamble in Macau, there is an indication that revenue will continue to pick up again after April 2019’s slump. Bernstein analyst Vitaly Umansky said: “improvements in the economic environment in China, if sustainable, is positive.” This means Macau’s gross gaming revenue may rise between 2-4%.