Macau Casino Crime Cut Almost in Half, Silver Lining of Reduced Visitor Traffic

Macau casinos have experienced fewer incidences of crime during the first six months of this year compared with 2021. It’s one of the few silver linings in Macau, as the Chinese enclave continues to battle COVID-19 by keeping the region relatively closed to outsiders.

A Judiciary Police officer stands guard in Macau. Macau casino crime has dropped in 2022, as fewer people have been allowed to venture into the Chinese casino hub amid ongoing COVID-19 concerns. (Image: Macau Daily Times)

Macau’s Security Secretary Wong Sio Chak’s office this week said there were 198 instances of gaming-related crime from January through June. That’s down 45% from 2021, when the six commercial gaming operators encountered 361 criminal acts through the first half of the year.

In 2021, the COVID-19 situation had stabilized and travel restrictions were eased resulting in a higher number of Macau-bound visitors,” a statement this week from the security secretary explained. “Correspondingly, gaming-related crimes were also on the rise.”

Macau’s pandemic picture greatly changed in mid-June 2022 after an outbreak put the Special Administration Region (SAR) on a near-lockdown. Earlier outbreaks on the mainland resulted in China tightening travel restrictions and Macau limiting inbound access.

With fewer people traveling to Macau in 2022, crime dropped.

Money Laundering Citations

Macau’s security secretary says suspicions of illicit exchanges of money through casino cashier cages were the main issue. They were responsible for the most alleged crime incidences through the first half of the year. But money laundering charges were down from the previous year.

Other types of gaming-related crime, including usury, theft, and kidnappings, were also lower. Wong’s crime report detailed 13 cases of actual theft inside casinos, 12 fewer than in the same period in 2021. Only one involved the use of counterfeit gaming chips.

Though Macau’s tightened borders presumably kept many bad actors out of its casinos, the security secretary also credited police for targeting “criminal groups” for the crime drop. But the government official did not detail what sort of investigations might have infiltrated or stopped such criminal operations.

As security secretary, Wong is Macau’s fourth-most senior government official. His agency is responsible for public safety and security throughout the region, and oversees the Judicial Police. Wong is additionally a member of Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng’s Executive Council, which acts as a formal body of advisors to the chief lawmaker.

Wong says it’s in Macau’s best interests to return the region’s casino industry to pre-pandemic strength.

“The epidemic situation that has lasted  for more than two years has had a strong impact on Macau’s gaming industry. “Gaming is a pillar industry in Macau,” Wong concluded in his casino crime report.

Crime, Gaming Tumbles

Reduced visitor traffic in 2022 was credited for the drop in Macau casino crime. But fewer travelers also led to reduced gaming revenue.

The six casino operators won $3.3 billion through the first seven months of the year. That’s down 54% — or approximately $3.8 billion — from 2021.

Macau’s current economy cannot survive long-term without its casinos. The sector employs the majority of the region’s residents and is responsible for the bulk of the enclave’s annual government budget.

Casinos delivered the SAR government about $14 billion in pre-pandemic 2019 tax revenue. That accounted for almost 90% of the enclave’s total tax income.

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