Uptake of China’s state-backed digital currency in Macau would stem the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars from the Chinese mainland into the special administrative region (SAR).
That’s according to iGamix gaming analyst Ben Lee who estimated up to $600 billion is taken out of the Chinese economy by Macau-bound gamblers each year.
As reported by Macau Business, Lee was addressing a conference organized by Britcham Macao, a British business association. The analyst said the SAR’s casino industry reported gross gaming revenues of US$45 billion in 2013, its best year. But this was just the casinos’ hold rate, the amount retained after winnings are returned to patrons.
Based on that figure, Lee estimated that gamblers would have, in fact, brought the equivalent of around US135 billion into the SAR that year. And if side-betting was factored into the equation, that number could rise to US$600 billion.
That is why China has been very unhappy with our gaming industry,” Lee added.
China’s Ministry of Public Security said last year that about RMB1 trillion (US$145.5 billion) flows out of the mainland into gambling activities every year. This was a “threat to the country’s economy and national security,” it warned.
Hugo Luz dos Santos, an expert on Macau gaming law, explained in Asian Gaming Lawyer that side-bets are an “agreement between the player placing the bets [in the casino] and a third party who promises to cover an additional illegal parallel bet.”
“What appears to be a simple bet placed at a certain casino table might represent hidden supplementary wagers,” he wrote. “Hence, a single dollar lost or won in a bet at a casino table may well correspond to two, five, ten or even hundred tax-free dollars under a parallel bet agreed with a third party.”
Soon after Macau posted its record results in 2013, Beijing kickstarted a “corruption crackdown,” targeting corrupt officials it believed were transporting their ill-gotten gains into the SAR with the help of the junket industry.
This was in defiance of the mainland’s strict rules on the movement of capital. Currently mainlanders are permitted to bring the equivalent of around US$3,000 into Macau, which can seriously cramp a high roller’s style.
The crackdown scared away the high rollers who had previously accounted for 60 percent of Macau’s gaming revenues, sending the market spiraling into an economic slump that lasted for almost two years.
But Beijing may have found a better way to exert financial control on the SAR. Central government announced the creation of the digital yuan, or DCEP, in November 2019, the first ever state-backed cryptocurrency. It was cautiously rolled out in April 2020 and is still in trial process.
The goal is a cashless society. And if that is ultimately adopted in Macau, it would hit the VIP sector hard and all but destroy the junket model.
Suddenly there would be an intrinsic built-in function that enables authorities to monitor, control and filter theoretically any and all transactions,” said Lee.
But it would not be all bad for the casino industry. The mass-market segment would likely go through the roof because a cashless economy would eliminate capital flight and thus the need for monetary controls, upping travelers’ spending power.
Lee said he knew of at least one Macau casino operator that had conducted an organizational-wide study into the potential impact of a future without cash.
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