China's anti-extravagance push has ended Macau casinos' winning run

Gambling takings in 'The Las Vegas of the East' fell last year for the first time on record.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2015

Macau is often referred to as 'Asia’s Las Vegas', almost as though it represents that continent’s poor imitation of a western icon. In fact, the former Portuguese colony might be more appropriately labelled the gambling capital of the world, after reporting casino revenues seven times that of its American cousin in 2013. This led to MT naming it as one of the top 10 emerging economies of 2014.

Lately, though, it's been looking like the territory's luck could be up. Today figures released by the region’s gambling regulator showed takings fell 2.6% to 361 billion Macanese Pataca (£29bn) last year, after a staggering 30.4% year-on-year fall in December and double-digit dips in the three months before that. This marks the first year gambling revenues in Macau have fallen since the sector was opened up to outside investors in 2002.

Like Hong Kong, Macau operates as a special administrative region of China with its own government supervised at arm’s length by Beijing. Gambling jitters have partly been blamed on a crackdown on extravagance by the Chinese Government, which has sought to rein in spending on corporate entertainment and gifts in recent years.

From December 2012 China’s state officials were instructed to avoid lavish ceremonies and ostentatious consumption. A survey by a Chinese marketing firm reportedly found that 42% of companies cut their spending on entertainment in the aftermath of this, and the likes of Diageo have been hit where it hurts by falling sales of the luxury spirit Baijiu.

Macau is the only place in China where gambling is permitted, making it a popular destination for high rollers from across the country, so a crackdown such as this was always likely to take its toll. 

The region has been looking for ways to diversify away from high-stakes gamblers and towards more mainstream tourists by offering better shops, hotels and attractions. Perhaps today’s figures could be the kick up the backside it needs to stimulate change. 

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