n Wednesday, officials from Macau Economic Services (MES) revealed that they had investigated 316 suspected instances of illegal gaming-related advertising in the last six months of 2014. Only 14 of these ads had been approved by the Civic and Municipal Services Bureau (IACM), the body responsible for issuing ad permits.
Compounding matters, those ads that had been approved – many of them promoting online gambling sites – were apparently okayed in error. MES deputy director Tai Kin Ip said these ads had been “deceptive enough to have cheated the IACM authorities for the go-ahead.”
That does little to assuage the concerns of local taxi drivers, some of whom have been threatened with prosecution for displaying the mistakenly approved ads on their vehicles. Critics have voiced concern that the overlapping mandates of MES and IACM have led to confusion as to what’s legal and what isn’t, which prompted the government to issue some clarification on its advertising laws.
Despite being the world’s top casino hub, Macau keeps a tight leash on gambling advertising. Casinos and junket operators are allowed to advertise their involvement in charity events or promote non-gaming events such as concerts, but Law No. 7/89/M prohibits advertisements that feature “gaming activities” as their main message.
Online gambling sites routinely flout this restriction by running ads that feature only their name and a contact number or website address. Other ads direct viewers to ‘tourism’ websites that contain links to online gambling sites. Individuals found to be violating this law can face fines of up to MOP 12k (US $1,500) while corporations can be dinged up to MOP 28k.
The MES felt prompted to act by the increasing frequency of illegal ads appearing in Macau. In February, MES’ acting head Kong Son Cheong said 190 instances of illegal gaming adverts had already been identified since the year began. That same month, Macau’s Judiciary Police arrested seven suspects suspected of spamming Macau residents’ phones with text messages promoting illegal online gambling services.