Four years ago, gamblers broke down the doors of the newest casinos to race for seats. Two years ago, Macau raked in $7 billion in annual casino revenue, surpassing the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s biggest gambling center. Officials hoped some of that lucre would help transform the seedy, sleepy enclave, less than a sixth the size of Washington, D.C., into a thriving convention and family entertainment center.
But today, Communist Party officials who once welcomed U.S. companies such as MGM Mirage, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands have put the brakes on the millions of mainland visitors who flow into the territory and, like Zhang, appear to give their cash away to foreign companies without investing in Macau itself. The impact of the new visa restrictions has changed the look and feel of Macau, where boom times have suddenly given way to gloom.
Most mainland residents, who make up more than half of Macau’s visitors, are now allowed only one visit every three months, under a policy from China’s Public Security Ministry. Access from Hong Kong, an hour’s ferry ride away, has been sharply restricted by Macau authorities. And mainland visitors en route to another Asian city, who used to be able to stay in Macau for two weeks, can now stay only a week.