An administrative region of the People’s Republic of China seems an unusual destination as a gambling haven but then Macau is anything but ordinary. A former Portuguese colony with a history of piracy and involvement in the slave trade, gambling has been legal on the island since 1850.
Despite the tight regulations elsewhere, the Chinese government allowed Macau to flourish as a mecca for the inveterate gambler. Its proximity to the mainland attracts short and long-stay tourists, with the latter making up just over half of visitors.
It hasn’t always been a smooth journey. After initially allowing western-style casinos on the island in 1999, there was a fifteen-year spell when the gambling revenues rose steadily, unimpeded by bureaucracy. In 2007, Macau earned more in gambling revenues than Las Vegas. From 33 casinos, it is a staggering achievement, compared to the 104 in the US city.
Government regulations were tightened in 2014, causing the casinos to suffer. It’s taken until now for the recovery to begin to take hold. Visitor numbers remain positive, and there has been significant investment in the island’s infrastructure, with new multimillion dollar casinos and hotels springing up just last year.
Having positioned itself as a high-end gambling resort, Macau is now trying to attract mainstream tourists. The new hotel rooms need to be filled which the VIP guests can’t do on their own.
The authorities are also trying to guide the island away from its reliance upon gambling revenues, and move into the mass tourism markets.
It’s a wise move. Murmurings are getting louder about increased government regulation, with a December 2016 report that China was planning to implement restrictions on the amount of money which could be withdrawn from ATM machines, sending a shiver down corporate spines.
Macau remains in good health overall, but the gambling markets in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe are evolving. According to the Gambling Commission, there are 148 casinos in Britain, with around 20% in the Greater London area. Since 2009, the number of new premises opening is 5; it suggests a market which has peaked.
While the gambling industry despite its rich history, overall is in rude health, the European gambling market, including the British isles, is more competitive than the Far East. Whereas Macau does not allow online casinos, Europe does. Were Macau to do the same, it seems inevitable that visitor numbers would drop; revenues certainly would in the casinos themselves.
Indeed, the Gambling Commission figures show that the online sector is in rude health, making up 33% of the overall market in March 2016, with gross revenues of £4.5bn for the same twelve month period. It’s an impressive growth considering that in 2009, online market revenues were worth just £816m.
Those figures are most likely going to continue improving as the short-term effects of Brexit are felt. The uncertainty around the full impact of leaving the European Union is predicted to lead to a more cautious approach to entertainment.
The British public is expected to spend more time online and that can only be good news for the online casinos, with the growing development of Virtual reality, iGaming brands such as Betway Casino, has diversified and added a modern twist to their existing casino games line as to help engage with a new technologically savvy audience. The growing revenues underline that there is no less excitement than in a high street venue.
Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests the popularity is also growing with a sense that the gambler has more control, and be less emotional. The message about responsible gambling is hitting home.
The development of virtual reality hardware has the possibility to enhance the online experience. From the comfort of your own living room using Samsung VR Gear for example, the software can let you be dressed to impress in an online casino, replicating the sense of being close to the action.
Fancy a Bond evening? The prospect of doing so with only the battery life to check, is enticing.
The opportunities are limited only by the human mind in that respect. A fully integrated experience increases the likelihood of customer retention and the ensuing repeat visits. For British high street casinos that would be a worrying development.
It’s also one of the reasons why Macau is unlikely to follow down that route. As the island tries to reposition itself in the world’s eyes, it needs some stability from the casinos as well as encouraging more investment from the conglomerates already present.
While they are two different markets, Macau and Britain has their own sets of problems which the other, while sympathising, will feel grateful to avoid.
“Senado Square – HDR” (CC BY 2.0) by Global Reactions
“Skyline” (CC BY 2.0) by kewl
“Macau” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Andrey Stekachev
Guest Author Bio
Stuart is a freelance writer and blogger, the driving force behind A Cultured Left Foot and Dad’s Jukebox.
After a lifetime of working for the man, he branched out on his own writing initially concentrating on his first loves, football and music. Or if his long-suffering wife Maggie is reading this, his second and third loves, football and music.
His first book has been on the drawing board for some time which is a pity because if it had used a PC, it might have been finished by now.