Macau’s cash pile — the economic indicator Beijing can’t fudge

Asia’s casino capital hit a soft patch

Cashing out

Daniel J. Groshong/The New York Times

Westerners skeptical of official Chinese government statistics are always on the lookout for economic indicators that are hard for even a Communist to fudge. One of them is gambling revenue in Macau, the Chinese-controlled “special administrative region” and Asia’s casino capital. The city’s gaming industry opened to Western investors in 2002 and has experienced mind-bending growth ever since. Revenue increased 42 per cent in 2011 to US$33.5 billion, making the ex-colony five times the size of Las Vegas’s strip.

But Macau’s July figures showed a year-over-year growth of just 1.5 per cent. The Fitch credit rating agency noted that typhoons had affected the Hong Kong-Macau ferry service, but warned of new Asian competitors and possible straitened credit for Chinese junket operators, who extend credit to rich gamblers. The Western casino magnate most at risk from a sluggish Chinese economy is U.S. Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, whose Sands Macao has catapulted his wealth into the stratosphere. Adelson received an apology this week from U.S. Democrats’ Congressional Campaign Committee, who claimed he’d cultivated a “prostitution strategy” at his properties in Macau.

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