Crime in Macau’s casinos nearly halved, silver lining of reduced visitors

Posted on: August 24, 2022, 12:55 p.m.

Last update on: August 23, 2022, 08:00h.

Macau’s casinos saw lower incidences of crime in the first six months of this year compared to 2021. It’s one of the few silver linings in Macau as the Chinese enclave continues to struggle with the COVID-19 keeping the region relatively closed to outsiders.

Macau China Casino Crime COVID-19
A judicial police officer stands guard in Macau. Macau casino crime plummeted in 2022 as fewer people were allowed to venture into central China’s casinos amid ongoing COVID-19 concerns. (Image: Macau Daily Times)

The office of Macau Security Secretary Wong Sio Chak said this week that there were 198 cases of gambling-related crimes from January to June. That’s a 45% drop from 2021, when the six commercial gaming operators faced 361 criminal acts in the first half of the year.

In 2021, the COVID-19 situation has stabilized and travel restrictions have been eased, resulting in higher numbers of visitors to Macau,” a statement this week from the security secretary explained. “As a result, gambling-related crimes were also on the rise.”

Macau’s pandemic picture changed dramatically in mid-June 2022 after an outbreak put the special administration region (SAR) in virtual lockdown. Previous outbreaks on the mainland led China to tighten travel restrictions and Macau to limit inbound access.

With fewer people traveling to Macau in 2022, crime has plummeted.

Money Laundering Quotes

Macau’s security secretary said suspicions of illicit money exchanges through casino cashiers were the main problem. They were responsible for the most suspected criminal incidents in the first half of the year. But money laundering charges were down from a year earlier.

Other types of gambling-related crimes, including loan sharking, theft and kidnapping, were also lower. Wong’s crime report detailed 13 cases of actual theft inside casinos, down 12 from the same time in 2021. Only one involved the use of counterfeit gaming chips.

Although Macau’s tight borders have likely prevented many malicious actors from entering its casinos, the security secretary also credited police with targeting “criminal groups” for the drop in crime. But the government official did not specify what type of investigations could have infiltrated or stopped such criminal operations.

As security secretary, Wong is the fourth-highest-ranking government official in Macau. His agency is responsible for public safety and security throughout the region and oversees the judicial police. Wong is additionally a member of the Executive Council of Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng, which acts as a formal body of advisers to the Chief Legislator.

Wong says it is in Macau’s interest to bring the region’s casino industry back to its pre-pandemic strength.

“The epidemic situation that has lasted for more than two years has had a strong impact on the gambling industry in Macau. “Gambling is a pillar industry in Macau,” Wong concluded in his casino crime report.

Crime, the games tumble

The reduction in visitor traffic in 2022 has been attributed to the decline in crime in Macau’s casinos. But fewer travelers have also led to lower gaming revenue.

The six casino operators earned $3.3 billion in the first seven months of the year. That’s a 54% drop — or about $3.8 billion — from 2021.

Macau’s current economy cannot survive in the long term without its casinos. The sector employs the majority of the region’s inhabitants and is responsible for the bulk of the enclave government’s annual budget.

The casinos provided the SAR government with around $14 billion in pre-pandemic tax revenue in 2019. This accounted for almost 90% of the enclave’s total tax revenue.

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