Special Report – Living between the casino and the school 

Studies show that Macau residents now go to casinos less than they did before 2004. What they really want is to buy Mark Six lottery tickets.  

MB October 2020 Special Report | The Chinese Gambler


One of the features of Macau as a gambling city is that casinos can be located just next door to schools or at a stone’s throw from churches. 

This, which is not easy to find elsewhere in the world, is seen as normal. The population has become accustomed, mainly in the old parts of the Peninsula and Taipa, to a neighbourhood that in other places tends to be more discreet. 

As Professor Zhonglu Zheng, from the Macau Polytechnic Institute, argues “Gambling facilities in geographic proximity lead to more gambling participation and more gambling-related problems.” According to this gaming expert, “Proximity is measured according to the distance from a place of residence to a venue or the convenience to travel to it.” In Macau, the two things couldn’t be closer. 

The director of the “Sheng Kung Hui” Gambling Counselling and Family Wellness Centre, Jackie Wu Wai Han, has no doubts: “The protection of the population from problematic gambling is insufficient. The Executive should implement more measures to away the negative impact of gambling. Currently, civil servants are prohibited from entering casinos, but the government should also study, like Singapore or South Korea, in order to define limitations on the entry of residents.” Interviewed by the Portuguese language newspaper JTM, Jackie Han argues that “at least passports or ID cards should be checked for access to casinos. Macau is a small city and gambling has a profound influence on the community.” 

The gambling participation rate in Macau was 67.9 per cent in 2003 according to data from the periodic study conducted by the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau. 

Interestingly, this number, which still does not take into account the results of the liberalization of the gambling market, shows a downward trend. 

For instance, 51.5 per cent of Macau residents aged 18 and above participated in at least one form of gambling activity in 2016, up two percentage points from 49.5 per cent in 2013. The findings were from a study commissioned by Macau’s Social Welfare Bureau. 

The latest figures from last year confirm this downward trend, with a record low. 

Based on the answers from 2,003 respondents, the report estimates that 40.9 per cent gambled in 2019. Some 36.2 per cent of respondents had taken part in commercial gambling during the past 12 months, compared to 44.6 per cent in 2016, while the median spending among gamblers dropped 16.7 per cent from MOP100 in 2016 to MOP83.3. 

Because of the warnings, the population of Macau does not waste much time (and money) at local casinos, preferring instead the Mark Six lottery, the most popular form of gambling (26.5 per cent of respondents taking part), while social gambling ranked second at 12.6 per cent and casino gambling had a 9.4 per cent share.  

These figures are confirmed by one of the most complete and recent studies carried out in Macau regarding the interest of the population in gambling forms. 

Segmenting Chinese gamblers based on gambling forms: A Latent class analysis (2019), by several professors at the University of Macau, including Davis Fong and Desmond Lam, shows that “Among the 11 gambling forms, Mark Six was the most popular (69.9 per cent). It was the only form with a participation rate higher than 50 per cent in the last 12 months.” Social gambling was the second most popular gambling form (37.3 per cent).  

“Although Macau is renowned for its casino industry, gaming in casinos (20.2 per cent) and slot venues (12.5 per cent) ranked third and fourth, respectively,” added the authors. Soccer/basketball betting ranked fifth with a proportion of 11.2 per cent. The other six forms had participation rates below 10 per cent, with trivial proportions for “Pakapoo” (local lottery; 0.5 per cent), online gambling (0.2 per cent), and boat casino (0.1 per cent). 

“According to our results, casino gamblers tended to be Macau residents who are male, unemployed, or high school graduates. These characteristics should be recorded by casino membership staff so that special attention can be given to these Macau gamblers, who are more likely to have gambling disorder,” concluded the research paper. 

“Macau is a small city and gambling has a profound influence on the community” – Jackie Han 


Casino employees, gambling disorder 

Several studies show that a significant percentage of casino employees have been identified as pathological gamblers.  

In Disordered Gambling among Chinese Casino Employees, 2008, Anise Wu and Eva Wong claimed 6.7 per cent of 119 Macau casino dealers engaged in disordered gambling. 

“Work stress is a risk factor for problem gambling among gaming employees. Other workplace factors which may encourage gambling participation and excessive gambling are frequent exposure to gambling and marketing activities, easy access to gambling and cash, close interaction with gamblers, and a drinking and gambling work sub-culture,” state researchers Irene Lai Kuen Wong and Pui Sze Lam of the Department of Applied Social Sciences of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. 

Those authors interviewed fifteen casino employees and the findings from this study published in 2013 confirm that casino employees may be an at-risk group for developing gambling problems: “With the exception of one interviewee, all reported gambling outside working hours in the previous year. Fourteen gambled in casinos. Five simultaneously engaged in internet gambling, while three also played mahjong and card games with colleagues and friends.”  

In 2011, Eastweek magazine revealed that a considerable number of dealers went to mainland cities such as Zhuhai, which some describe as the “heaven of drugs,” to buy or use drugs. The interviewees said that when they felt exhausted after work taking drugs could make them ‘high’. 

MB October 2020 Special Report | See > Ashamed or only cautious?