macau gambling

Simon Montlake wrote recently in the Christian Science Monitor about Macau’s “exhilarating” growth of late. Imagine yourself in a town where the GDP rose 17 percent last year and the law mandated that the highest paying of the thousands of new jobs must go to you, a local resident. Desperate casinos are hiring college students before graduation and they are easy to spot as they doze off even in the midst of exams. One the face of it Macau, with salaries 3-6 times higher on average than the mainland, has re-nationalized and re-located the American Dream Eastward. And land values have increased some 30% this year and restaurants and service sector shops are packed most days. But, there is life in the darkness beneath the fresh sod of success: Thousands of illegal aliens, mostly Filipino domestic helpers, Chinese mainland construction workers and Russian showgirls and prostitutes, work for under- the-table pay while living in overcrowded apartments. For every undocumented worker deported there are dozens, from the over 200 million migrant workers creating China’s new skyline, waiting to take their place. And there is no shortage of employers desperate to fill critical shortages or other local needs who are willing to bend the rules for a profit.

Last week a man from Wuhan in Hubei province, reportedly despondent over gambling losses, jumped to his death from a terrace inside the Sands Casino. He landed amid players queueing up for a free million HK dollar pull on a house slot machine. The Sands, who made profits staggering enough to pay off all their debts in only a few months, is building a new 3,000-room Venetian Macau at a cost of $2.3 billion and will likely retire that debt in record time. Mainlanders lose the money that comprises more than 60% of the revenue that has already outstripped the take of Las Vegas. Changes in anti-gambling Beijing’s hands off policy could affect the country’s bottom line and leave a populous, vocationally training to need gaming demands, without a fall-back plan.

It is not the first time someone has taken their own life after yielding to gambling urges and the mainland authorities, this time, have taken some token measures to curb addiction: Visas issuance, according to an official source in Guangzhou, have been limited in number due to the recent suicide. While I am sure this will do little to stem the tide of players it may be a warning shot fired at the captains of greed steering Macau into waters dependent on the very people Macau scorns with governmental controls. It may well cut down on monetary traffic for the upcoming Golden Week holiday. The increase in real estate prices has taken place despite a huge surplus of available rental space. Thousand of high-end dwellings are gather dust on their price tags as the asking price is far too steep even for most newly affluent Macanese. Affordable housing for newcomers and is hard to come by and the 9-10 Macanese and Hong Kong families that control the bulk of Macau’s property holdings.

The rampant land speculation is making decent housing unaffordable. In an effort to slow real estate speculation the Macau government abruptly stopped its program that allowed outsiders to invest in homes and then qualify for citizenship. Of course, only non-Chinese qualified anyway unless mainlanders bought a passport from an African, Carribean or South American country selling citizenship. Now, many mainlanders are out the cost of an apartment and a fresh nationality. And real estate developers selling space in dozens of new luxury high-rises are owed millions in unpaid commissions now that the lure is gone.

What is most troubling is: the new policy does not look like it will lower prices as the moguls have plenty of cash to park in land holdings while betting on the come of outside cash. Macau has already surpassed Hong Kong as the top tourist destination in the area, but a quick search for the number of people checking on line for lodging in the area shows Macau getting 2/3 less look-ups. Macau is a Gambling Disneyland and good for a day trip, but not a vacation destination.

The homey, cheap places to eat are giving way to gourmet fare at tourist prices as local restaurateurs cannot afford the rent or compete for service workers with the casinos. The Sands starts their toilet attendants at a salary twice that of a mainland college teacher. Area entertainment magazines, paid for by casino ads, laud the explosion of new chefs and high-dollar meals, but the locals think otherwise.

Right now, Macau is a safe bet for locals. But, for someone to win at the tables, someone else must lose.

by Lonnie Hodge @ OMBW 

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