EDITORIAL – Change

Macau Business Editorial | December 2021 | By José Carlos Matias – Director

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. The famous quote from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo has been widely used to refer to situations where the best recipe for maintaining the status quo is embracing managed change. 

That being said, these days in Macau the status quo – business as usual – is seemingly no longer the endgame in many ways, and the gaming industry is a case in point. Recent developments – detention of the head of the SAR’s top junket and the key final verdict in the Dore case – are likely to result in substantial changes along with the external, mid-to-long-term impact of a still unpredictable COVID-19. 

Those with the upper hand may identify in this critical juncture a window of opportunity for what is seen as a much-needed and long-overdue restructuring and remediation. In the same thread, this may be the moment to make Macau less of the “Enfer du jeu (gambling hell)” of Jean Delannoy’s 1939 film and more of the family-friendly Entertainment Heaven (and why not haven?) set out in the One Centre(World Centre of Tourism and Leisure) component of the master plan for the city and region.

Since, as we all know, attaining such a desirable goal will take time, perhaps this crossroads can be turned into the birthplace of an Accelerator of History? On the other hand, what if – perish the thought – things get out of hand? 

One should bear in mind that the post-handover Pax–  social contract –  has been to a great extent grounded on sound prosperity and stability.

How much of what we are experiencing is transitory, and how much will be translated into permanent fixtures?

Uncertainty reigns at this stage – pretty much across the board and all around the world. These are not the best of times for people in the crystal ball business. While authorities will need to keep their options open, holding their cards too close to their chest for a prolonged period of time might not be the best option. The Chief Executive has hinted at the possibility of extending the current concessions and sub-concessions, should there be insufficient time to complete the gaming law revision and prepare a public tender on time ahead of the June 2022 expiration of the casino concessions. For the key players, anything that unclouds the horizon would be most welcome.

In the meantime, of paramount importance is addressing the critical issues arising from a tougher job market, higher underemployment, the collapsing of small businesses and shrinking household incomes, among other social woes.

The Policy Address for 2022 does include a number of key supportive measures, but the Chief Executive has acknowledged the likely need for additional moves given the current background and the example of the last two years, not to mention the longer-term structural challenges looming ahead.

And though the city’s rainy-day fund, combined with the support and long-term vision provided by Beijing and the local population’s own deeply ingrained pragmatism, will offer protection against the headwinds, these strengths alone, while indispensable, may not necessarily be sufficient to weather the storm.

While we badly need the city’s winning streak to return, governing the SAR these days requires a great deal of both perspiration and inspiration. Ho Iat Seng and his cabinet surely know this all too well. 

Meanwhile, one could invert Tomasi’s quote: “If we want things to change, a number of things things will have to stay as they are (were)”.