Thanks largely to millions of mainland Chinese punters

Macau gaming revenue hits record in 2010

Reading time 2:05 min

But the governments in China and Macau are growing more worried about the impact of vast sums of money flowing into the city's economy and they have already imposed several restrictions to stop it running out of control. The whopping jackpot comes even as regional rivals including Singapore have opened glitzy new casinos to grab a chunk of the massive Asian market.

Macau's casinos raked in us$ 23.5 billion in 2010, compared with us$ 14.6 billion in 2009, the city's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau said. That eye-popping total is about four-times higher than the six billion US dollars that gamblers are expected to have spent on the Las Vegas Strip in 2010, according to Hong Kong-based brokerage CLSA.

The Chinese territory also set a new monthly record in December, raking in us$ 2.3 billion, about 66.4 % higher than the same month in 2009. "We were not expecting it to be so strong in December," Aaron Fischer, a CLSA gaming analyst, told AFP. "We thought it would fall off a bit in the last few weeks (of the month) but it didn't. Historically, Christmas is not a big gambling time."

The gaming boomtown's revenue is driven largely by high-roller gamblers, including many wealthy Chinese tourists who have been riding high on the country's surging economy, he said. "It's not just a Macau or gaming thing," Fischer added. "There are a huge amount of mainland Chinese travelling and spending money."

Macau has posted a sharp revenue increase since mid-2009, continuing to smash monthly records as it shrugs off a downturn during the global financial crisis. Handed back to China in 1999, Macau is the only Chinese city where casino gambling is allowed and has seen its fortunes steadily soar since opening up to foreign competition in 2002.

The most recent yearly figures are about four times higher than the us$ 5.6 billion in gaming revenue which Macau recorded in 2005. But that runaway growth has caused the Chinese and Macau governments to express concerns about the city's gambling-dependent economy and skyrocketing rents, with Beijing imposing visa restrictions on mainland citizens in 2009.

Macau has also tightened restrictions on immigrant labour due to pressure from home-grown labour groups, including banning foreigners with only tourist visas from working in the city. That has caused headaches for casino operators, including US operator Las Vegas Sands, which has seen a 4.1 billion US dollar project on the city's lucrative Cotai strip repeatedly delayed.

In March, the Macau government said it would cap the number of gambling tables in the city's casinos, making expansion plans more difficult.

Macau's government last month rejected separate applications from a Sands unit and local casino tycoon Stanley Ho's SJM Holdings to develop another Cotai site, saying it would no longer grant land for casinos without a public tender.

But those measures - even a new round of visa restrictions - may not do much to dent the city's red-hot economy, said Davis Fong, director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau. "If there are no further government policy measures then I'd say the gaming revenue figure would continue to grow," he told AFP.

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