Wu Bangguo, the chairman of China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), paid a three-day visit to Macau last month. On a visit to the Ruins of St. Paul, Wu was asked by reporters to comment on the widespread rumors that Beijing was planning a crackdown on the flow of money into Macau’s gaming halls. The Macau Daily Times reported that Wu said nothing, just smiled enigmatically.
Fast forward a few days and Macau’s deputies are in Beijing for the first session of the 12th NPC meeting, where deputy Prime Minister Zhang Deijang told them Macau needed to put more effort into diversifying its economic development in order to better prepare for ‘possible difficult circumstances.’ (You mean ‘difficult’ as in an end to its casino monopoly?) Zhang also reminded the deputies to educate young people with an eye toward new developments. Macau deputy Ho Suit Sing said she interpreted Zhang’s remarks as saying Macau was doing a lousy job providing students with a variety of necessary skills.
The past few years have brought growing complaints from locals that many Macau students are sleepwalking through their studies in the belief that they will be able to transition straight from school into well-paying jobs at Macau casinos. In most cases, they’re right. The Statistics and Census Service (DSEC) released its latest manpower survey this week, showing Macau’s gaming sector employed 54,835 people in Q4 2012, a 9.2% rise over the same period in 2011. Average salaries rose 7.9% over the same period, yet there were still 2,144 job vacancies at the end of Q4. The statistics do not include junket promoters or associates.
If you ever wanted a statistic that showed the disparity between Macau and Las Vegas in terms of diversity of entertainment options, consider this: the most recent University of Nevada figures for Vegas gaming employment show 24,050 of the total 103.261 staffers (23%) fall under the ‘casino department’ classification. In Macau, 44,768 of the 54,835 (81.6%) employed in the gaming industry are frontline casino workers. In fact, 44% of all Macau casino employees are dealers, reflecting Macau’s reliance on live table games vs. Vegas’ legions of solitary slots players.
Even before Beijing started making public noises about Macau’s need to diversify, the disparity between Macau and Vegas’ entertainment options was a top concern among Macau’s politicians. Officials have made it plain that new casinos will be granted increasingly scarce table game allocations based on their proportion of floor space devoted to non-gaming amenities. Galaxy Entertainment Group deputy chairman Francis Lui Yiu Tung recently acknowledged that the ability to fill the planned new phases of the Galaxy Macau casino with gaming tables “very much depends on the government.” But as Lui told Macau Business, he’s confident the authorities “will continue to do positive things to make the industry healthier and more sustainable. If not, I would not spend HK $50b” developing Galaxy’s new digs.