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. However, the Portuguese government did not legalize gambling in Macau until 1847.
Initially, Chinese games of chance prevailed with different companies successively awarded the monopoly concession. Gradually, however, other games such as baccarat were introduced. Horse racing also became a popular form of gambling.
In 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.
In 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).
In 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, and in 2004, the Sands Macao, the first American run casino in Macau, opened. More recent notable American-run additions to the burgeoning Macau casino scene include such properties as the Venetian, Wynn, Encore, and MGM Grand.
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 in Macau casinos was 21 for Macau residents but 18 for foreign visitors.
However, effective November, 2012, a new law went into effect making age 21 uniformly the minimum legal age both for wagering in a 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 in compliance. 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 either in existence or soon to be enacted concerning the regulation of online gambling sites. Meanwhile, none of the 33 casinos licensed to operate in Macau can open up sites for online wagering since there is no licensing system.
Recently a warning was issued to ensure that 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.
Live Casino And Online Gambling in Macau Today
Macau remains the only place in all of China where gambling is legal as of 2019. Therefore, unsurprisingly, millions of Chinese cross the border from the Mainland to enjoy the action. In fact, of the 28 million visitors to Macau per year, more than half come from the China Mainland.
Also, more than half, who are there for one purpose only, to gamble, stay less than one day. They leave, like they enter, with shopping bags filled with hidden cash. Although it is against the law for anyone from the Mainland to take out more than 20,000 in Yuan (the equivalent of about 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 of 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 rampant right on the casino floor, claiming to be selling the items, but in reality primarily serving as merely 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.
Much of 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 pari-mutuel betting, the lottery, and sports betting. However, all three account for only a tiny fraction of Macau’s enormous total gaming 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.
So while other countries regard Macau as a model for using people’s propensity to gamble to their own advantage, the glittery casinos and thriving economy and, of course, the fact that the Macau government is profiting enormously belie the dark side. Prostitution and money laundering with suspected tie-ins to organized crime are rampant, and the incidence of problem gambling is also on the rise.
Concurrently, 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 $100.
Even without current indications that the phenomenal growth of the Macau economy could be slowing down, because gambling, along with related retail and entertainment businesses that support it, constitutes the only major industry in Macau, economic leaders are concerned. They worry about what would happen if physical or online gambling should level off or decline there.
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 a gambling problem, but in 2007, the figure was 2.6%, and in 2012, about 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 casino workers. Seeing the enormous amounts of money players are capable of winning and, of course, being right there on the premises, casino employees can be easily tempted.
The law enacted in 2012 to uniformly raise the minimum age in Macau to 21 for both gambling and working in a casino represents one attempt 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 every indication that it is not waning in the least bit. Predictions for the new year are that all systems are a go and Macau is ready to maintain its place as the premiere leader in land-based casinos.