Casino crackdown a potential jackpot
While a JTBC camera crew was shooting last month in the casino at Lisboa Hotel in Macau, I had a conversation with a middle-aged Chinese man from Beijing. I asked why he came so far when the casinos in Jeju Island or Seoul are much closer.
Because he could not get a seat on the twice- daily flight between Beijing and Macau, he flew to nearby Zhuhai and traveled by land. The journey must have taken him at least six hours. Since domestic flights in China are delayed two hours on average, he might have been on the road for eight hours or more.
That’s why I asked why he did not consider Korea, since it takes two hours from Beijing. I thought all a gambler needed was a casino, nice hotel and duty-free shopping. What else do they want?
Macau casinos are enjoying brisk business, thanks to the people working in the economic center of Guangdong and nearly every corner of China. They make record profits year after year.
The annual revenue of Macau casinos totals $33 billion, about three times that of Las Vegas. Every year, revenue increases 40 percent. October revenue reached $3.5 billion, a one-month record.
However, dark clouds are gathering over Macau. The newly launched Xi Jinping leadership is promoting a fair society with no corruption as the administrative motto. While convention centers and resort facilities blanket Macau, the city is essentially living on gambling. Ninety percent of the gross domestic product is generated by casinos.
Illegal transactions, such as money laundering and unlawful currency exchanges, are common, and brokers are making tidy profits from the illegal food chain. As Xi Jinping is gearing up to wage his war on corruption, Macau has become a sore spot. Chinese rich men have a keen eye for financial opportunities, and if they don’t fail to see the signs of imminent change, an unprecedented casino boom may await Korea.
A plan to build a casino town exclusively for foreigners is in progress. Singapore has permitted the sinful business of gambling based on a strategic calculation not to miss out on the opportunity for increased employment and constant growth. Singapore lifted regulations for foreigners and initiated measures to encourage the Chinese to spend their money there.
In terms of approachability, Yeongjong Island cannot be compared to Singapore or Macau. The authorities need to tighten regulations to prevent evils accompanying casino businesses. Moreover, we need a discussion on creating leisure facilities to address the spending tendency of the Chinese tourists visiting casinos.
But if we think too much and act too late, only Macau and Singapore will benefit from the great opportunity.
* The author is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Cheong Yong-whan