History shows that Macau’s big casinos were built on land conquered by the sea – and here, no-one believes in coincidence.
In several cases, when these landfills were built the plans did not go through to install gambling, with COTAI just the latest example.
Who guarantees now that this will not happen again with landfills being created?
The Government of Macau itself.
The new Maritime Areas Basic Law bill, currently awaiting approval in the Legislative Assembly, does not admit the installation of gaming spaces on landfills. “The requirement of not using landfills for gaming spaces came from the Macau SAR Government. We wanted to legislate in this way,” said Executive Council spokesman Leong Heng Teng late last year.
The problem goes far beyond the will of the government, however.
Tourism services speak of 40 million tourists in less than 10 years. Will they continue to go to the same casinos that exist today?
Another forecast taken from the Masterplan for the Development of the Tourism Industry: by 2025 there could be almost 40% more hotels in the Region. How many of these new hotels will survive without gambling?
There seems to be an intention on the part of the political leaders of the MSAR to concentrate the casinos in COTAI. But COTAI has almost no more space available.
On the Peninsula, on the other hand, more tourists will not cease to saturate spaces that today are already too full of visitors.
“I doubt that more casinos will not be built on the new landfills,” Portuguese architect Ana Rodrigues told Macau Business. However, the author of a Master’s thesis entirely devoted to Territorial Expansion through Embankment in Macau (2014) has hopes that “if this happens it will be on a smaller scale . . . [pointing out that] . . . the new landfills are being thought of in a logical way and they will meet the needs of the population, with improvements in infrastructure, more public facilities, recreational areas, and a very important housing factor. I think that this new phase of landfills will have to respond in large measure to this last factor.” She also believes “that the gambling market in Macau will continue, but it will be accompanied by other activities, taking into account the Chinese authorities’ vision of interconnecting Macau, Hong Kong and Guangzhou.”
Researchers Andrew MacDonald and William Eadington write in Macau, a Lesson in Scarcity, Value and Politics: “It is also understood that while the government is seeking to reclaim 983 acres of land over the next twenty years, much of this will not be allocated for casino use (although as with everything else in Macau things can change).”
Another specialist consulted by Macau Business was architect Paula Morais, one of the co-founders of China Planning Research Group, who lived in Macau in the ‘90s.
For Morais, who is preparing a doctoral thesis on urban planning in Macau, “it is uncertain. The new reclamation areas’ land uses will most likely remain flexible (as Macau planning history has shown us) and will adapt to whatever are the plans of the Administration in the future. Moreover, we can argue that these will fit the outcomes of a complex negotiation between Beijing, the Pearl River Delta Region (Guangzhou) and Macau’s plan in a globalising context that is continuously changing.”
The government doesn’t want to use landfills for gaming spaces. “I doubt that more casinos will not be built on the new landfills,” Portuguese architect Ana Rodrigues told Macau Business
Although she thinks that “it is unlikely that the government will allow new casinos beyond COTAI,” Paula Morais recalls that “for now, the new masterplan intends to prioritise public space and infrastructure, and housing . . . [with] . . . heavy investment in the public which is in line with China’s overall Belt and Road strategy – for which Macau holds a strategic position with the PRD.”
Landfills ‘kill’ old Macau
“If Macau is to continue to grow economically and demographically as it has in the past it will need more landfill area. As you know, this is fairly easy to do due to the nature of the Pearl River around Macau,” confides Richard Louis Edmonds, former editor of The China Quarterly, who is also concerned that “low lying coastal landfill areas may start flooding in the future due to sea level rise – something that the Macau authorities should also think about.”
But “if Macau wants to grow and is not too concerned about sacrificing the character of the old city and the changes that landfill will bring to the local ecosystem then the pro-growth people could have their way and landfill will be the primary method,” anticipates the author of Macau (Clio Press, 1989).
“I can see protests occurring in Macau but the final decision is likely to come from Beijing. Without more gambling and associated business/tourist growth, the options for growth in other areas such as light industry (previous attempts to develop light industry has not been particularly successful) remain uncertain.” Professor Edmonds don’t believes the One Road and One Belt initiative “even if it fails to produce near to the level that China wishes, it is unlikely to help Macau’s diversification.”
To the Visiting Professor in the Geographical Studies Program, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Chicago, landfills destroy “the character (and ecosystems) of Macau, Hong Kong, and arguably parts of many other countries.”
“The landfill certainly will further change the face of Macau and there is a qualitative question as to whether that will be for the better or worse,” he anticipates, developing the idea: “tourists looking for the ‘old Macau’, the ‘Monte Carlo of the East’, and ‘Portugal in Asia’ will increasingly be disappointed. That said these people generally are not the big money spenders.”
“The landfill certainly will further change the face of Macau and tourists looking for the ‘old Macau’, the ‘Monte Carlo of the East’, and ‘Portugal in Asia’ will increasingly be disappointed” (Richard Louis Edmonds).
What kind of “economic diversification” is there for Macau that cannot be offered by any other place in China, he asks? “The Lusofonic connection and the Special Autonomous Region status seem to offer only modest opportunities. Hong Kong continues to offer many advantages that Macau cannot. I would think that gambling must reach a saturation point and perhaps may even become to be seen as a nuisance by Beijing some day. That said I have not been following this lately.”
And Professor Edmonds, in this interview with Macau Business, leaves another idea at least innovative: ” “I am pretty sure Macau itself cannot apply as much pressure on the central government as Hong Kong and Hong Kong does not seem to be able to apply much pressure to control its own fate these days. It could take a long time (if ever) before the added landfill paid off and even then, it might just be through more casinos. Also there could be people in power in Beijing that worry that a bigger Macau may start to make as much ‘trouble’ similar to Hong Kong in terms of demanding autonomy.”