Macau’s record year means less of more

In 2010, Macau gaming revenue set another new record at 188.34 billion Macau patacas ($23.5 billion), capped with its biggest monthly haul ever in December. Gaming industry experts are convinced that Beijing will continue permitting vast quantities of the mainland’s wealth to leave via Macau’s baccarat tables.

But grassroots Macau benefits little from its influx of tourists and money, and there’s no coherent plan to change that. Efforts at diversifying the economy from its reliance on gaming, in the few cases where they’ve progressed past the talking stage, remain fruitless. As I wrote in Asia Times, the hospitality industry suffers from a plague of Macau see, Macau do: emulating rivals’ (mainly unsuccessful) ideas rather than daring to be original. The government looks increasingly unable to spend its vast wealth, now estimated are more than $25 billion for a city of 550,000, to benefit residents.

Macau has become a great place to bet or buy Gucci, but an increasingly poor place to live and work. In the long run, that’s not good for anyone. Even if Macau’s ruling elite and gaming industry don’t realize it, Beijing surely does.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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