01/14/2009, 00.00
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Macau casinos in crisis hoping for mainland gamblers

Beijing tightened entry restrictions to Macau in the last few months, but the enclave’s real problem is the drop in VIP gamblers. Taiwan meanwhile plans casinos for its outlying islands.
Macau (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Casinos are also feeling the impact of the economic crisis. The gambling Mecca of Macau has thus been trying to get Beijing to relax travelling restrictions for mainlanders who want to visit the former Portuguese colony and spend their money in the territory’s casinos. Making matters worse it will soon have to face competition from Taiwan which is set to open big casinos on its outlying islands.

Disappointment was palpable last week when the Communist Party’s Macau expert, Xi Jinping, did not announce any relaxation of travel restrictions during his visit to the enclave.

Since October, mainlanders travelling independent of tour groups have only been able to visit Macau once every three months, down from twice a month before 1 June of last year.

This restriction has negatively impacted Macau's six licensed casinos whose stocks lost 45 to 95 per cent of their value.

Instead Xi urged Macau to diversify its gaming-driven economy, pledging Beijing’s economic support in other fields.

Indeed analysts are increasingly cautious about the sector, with many saying that reliance on this one sector is overdone, especially since worsening VIP credit tightening has a much larger impact on Macau than the mass gaming market.

Soon Macau will also have to fear Taiwanese competition. Taiwan's Legislative Yuan has in fact passed a bill legalising gambling on its outlying islands.

The move paves the way for the economically depressed Penghu archipelago in the Taiwan Strait, and possibly even Quemoy and Matsu near Fujian, to press ahead with plans for casino resorts.

In Penghu plans include the construction of 500 rooms and a casino partnering with one of the world's top five casinos.

The archipelago’s 90,000 residents have already passed two referendums in support of gambling operations to boost the local economy.

“We've wanted to stimulate development of the offshore islands, particularly tourism,” said Chang Sho-wen, the secretary general of the ruling Kuomintang's caucus.

Taiwan’s political opposition is critical of the move, especially since gambling has not yet been legalised in the country.

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