Macau grapples with Casino boom

Many Chinese students are learning casino skills as part of various degree courses offered

Macau grapples with Casino boom
In a nondescript building around the corner from the world’s biggest casino, students at the Macau Polytechnic Institute are in class. Huddled at a long table topped with green felt, they pay close attention as their instructor writes a series of diagrams and numbers on a whiteboard. But this isn’t a regular math lesson. The students sitting around the roulette table are getting schooled on how to quickly calculate payoffs for the casino game by glancing at how the chips are placed. Elsewhere in the room, the biggest mock casino in Asia, other students are playing practice hands of blackjack or learning how to run a craps table. As many as 8,000 vocational students take courses at the institute's Gaming Teaching and Research Centre each year, while a small number of students learn casino skills as part of degree courses.

Foreign operators such as Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts have invested billions to build glitzy resorts, drawing tens of millions of Chinese gamblers annually that have supercharged the economy.

The casino industry's surging growth has created tens thousands of well-paying jobs, raised living standards and boosted the city’s economy. The casino boom has been largely peaceful, in contrast to the violence that rocked the city in the 1990s when triads, or Chinese criminal gangs, fought for control of the lucrative VIP rooms.

Property prices have surged and inequality has widened. Some lament the embrace of materialism and the erosion of traditional community values. “I have thought of another job, but the salaries at other jobs are lower than the casinos. Now I’ve become used to this lifestyle,” said Marcos Wong, a 27year-old VIP room supervisor at the Grand Lisboa casino earning 20,000 patacas ($2,500) a month, much higher than the average wage in Macau, a special administrative region of China. “We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up so of course I had to study more to try to change my des

tiny. But to change one’s destiny, the reality is you need a lot of money,” said Wong, one of the degree students taking the roulette class. The city’s young are in high demand thanks to government restrictions on the number of foreign workers. Casino jobs are popular because the pay is two-thirds higher than the city’s median monthly income of 11,700 patacas ($1,465) and many positions don’t even require a high school diploma. But there are drawbacks, including the stress of dealing with customers on losing streaks who become unruly or aggressive.

The government, which earns more than 70 per cent of its tax revenue from casinos, has tried to pacify the public by giving annual cash handouts to each resident.

Chief executive Fernando Chui, the city’s leader, last week said the amount would rise to 8,000 patacas next year. Chui also announced plans to provide more housing for residents and offer interest free loans to young entrepreneurs. But some are skeptical such measures will make any difference.

“Macau is a complete illusion of prosperity because what we are building is only casinos, rooms and some shops with famous brands,” said lawmaker Jose Coutinho.

Coutinho said he worried that Macau’s university graduates would find it increasingly hard to find jobs not related to the gambling sector and that workers would be vulnerable in a downturn. “If they are in middle age and they lose their jobs, it’s very difficult for them to find another job in Macau,” he said.

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