Macau casinos keeping close tabs on China’s public officials


macau-casinos-monitoring-china-public-officialsMacau’s top legislator has confirmed that lcoal authorities are cooperating with Beijing to monitor mainland public officials’ visits to Macau casinos.

Speaking on the sidelines of this weekend’s National People’s Congress in Beijing, Macau Legislative Assembly president Ho Iat Seng told reporters that Macau authorities “know right away when a government official from the mainland walks in the door.”

Macau’s Portuguese-language media outlet Ponto Final quoted Ho saying that some of these officials have received telephone calls from their departmental superiors mere seconds after they sit down at a gaming table in a Macau casino. Ho claimed that Macau casino had “internal methods” of determining who was or wasn’t a public official whose presence in a gambling venue would interest mainland authorities.

These ‘internal methods’ are believed to be increasingly reliant on facial recognition technology, like the kind installed on all UnionPay ATMs in Macau last year in a bid to reduce unauthorized capital flight by mainland residents visiting the Special Administrative Region.

The idea that Beijing is monitoring public officials’ activities in Macau isn’t new. In 2015, the director of Beijing’s liaison office in Macau publicly declared that new identity checks at Macau gaming tables meant that any official who traveled to Macau for gambling purposes “will be discovered.”

Beijing is adamant that there’s no going back to the bad old days of 2009, when public officials and top managers of state-owned firms accounted for 57% of Macau’s top casino spenders, losing an annual average of US$3.3m apiece. Referencing this period, Macau’s Ho Iat Seng told reporters this weekend that “control over the ‘blue bags’ was not tight enough” in those days.

In 2013, China’s new – and, after this weekend, permanent – president Xi Jinping launched a crackdown on corruption among public officials that contributed to a two-year-plus decline in Macau gaming revenue. While the market has since rebounded, Ho Iat Seng said Macau’s high rollers were now “businessmen and normal people,” and that even bank managers now find it “very difficult to come to Macau.”