Macau Lawmaker Calls for Online Gambling to Provide COVID-19 Relief

Posted on: September 23, 2020, 09:25h. 

Last updated on: September 23, 2020, 10:04h.

Macau lawmaker Jose Maria Pereira Coutinho is urging the enclave government to legalize online gambling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macau online gambling casino
Amid a health crisis, a Macau politician says online casinos make fiscal sense for the Chinese enclave. (Image: Getty)

Gross gaming revenue (GGR) in Macau is down 81.6 percent January through August, casino win totaling roughly $4.5 billion. The six licensed casino operators in the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) won approximately $24.8 billion during the same eight months in 2019.

Taxes from casino gambling account for nearly 90 percent of Macau’s government revenue. With the money plummeting due to the coronavirus, and the enclave largely isolating itself from the rest of the world, including the mainland, Coutinho believes taking casinos online is a viable remedy.

Macau should introduce interactive gaming,” Coutinho said, as reported by Inside Asian Gaming. “The Macau SAR government should establish official standards and regulations on interactive gaming, and develop interactive gaming software together, in order to increase revenue from gaming tax and to further develop gaming industries.”

Coutinho has been a member of the Legislative Assembly of Macau since 2005.

Tax Revenue Flatlines

Five Macau casino operators share 39 percent of their GGR with the local government. SJM Holdings, the gaming empire of the late Stanley Ho, who held a monopoly on casinos in the region for decades until Macau was handed back from Portugal to China in 1999, is taxed less at 38 percent.

Casinos won $36.6 billion last year, meaning the Macau government collected around $14 billion from gaming. At its current rate, Macau’s gaming floors are on pace to win around $7 billion.

The difference in forecast tax revenue is a staggering $11 billion.

In a written interpellation to the SAR Legislative Assembly, Coutinho suggests Macau take a page out of the UK’s book and European nations and move to authorize interactive gambling. He says such a decision could also result in iGaming operators going public on Asian stock exchanges, including Macau’s potential yuan-denominated market.

Online Gaming Odds

With the exception of its state-run lottery, China prohibits its citizens from gambling anywhere on the mainland. Many still do.

Numerous Asian countries target Chinese residents with online gambling. One of the most notable is the Philippines, where some 60 internet operators are based that actively market to Chinese people.

Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, or POGOs as they’re known, have been lambasted by officials in the People’s Republic. China President Xi Jinping has pleaded with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to expunge POGOs from his country. But the controversial leader has said their tax revenues are too great to warrant removal.

Along with trying to suppress POGOs, China recently confirmed the country is using “big data” to crack down on citizens exiting the country to gamble overseas. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism additionally said last month that it’s organizing a blacklist of foreign casino operators that market to Chinese people.

Macau’s chief gaming regulator told IAG earlier this year that while there “are risks of gambling through the internet or telephone,” the “government would listen to any suggestions that would help the development of the industry.”