China plans to allow gambling on Hainan island: report

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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BEIJING, China (AFP) — Beijing is considering plans to allow gambling on Hainan island and end a long-standing ban in China, which could open the way for casinos in the province and threaten Macau's lucrative gaming industry, Bloomberg reported Friday.

Chinese government agencies meeting under a reform committee headed by President Xi Jinping are considering licensing online games, lotteries and sports betting in the southern island province, the financial news agency said, citing unidentified people close to the matter.

It would be a historic turnaround for the communist government which has long strictly banned all forms of gambling in mainland China and comes against the backdrop of its massive campaign against corruption.

The proposal, which is still in preliminary discussions, could legalise gambling only in Hainan province, a tropical island off the south coast, and over the longer term open the door to development of physical casinos there, Bloomberg said.

Such a development would be part of a programme of reforms designed to attract more visitors to the island, where many tourist infrastructure projects are under way.

Development of a gaming industry in Hainan would create a new rival for semi-autonomous Macau, the only part of China where casino gambling is legal and the world's largest gaming market, dwarfing Las Vegas.

Macau's revenues took a hit after Xi declared his war on graft in 2014, with many mainland big spenders staying away from the enclave, which had gained a reputation as a centre for laundering illicit money out of China.

Casino giants have since launched a slew of new mega-resorts, offering everything from fine dining to theme parks as they look to attract mass-market gamblers to compensate for the fall in high rollers.

The gamble appears to have paid off, as Macau's gaming revenues soared 36 per cent year-on-year in January.

But allowing casinos in Hainan could threaten the prosperity of Macau, depriving it of some of its customers.

Shares in Macau casino giants Sands China, MGM China and Wynn Macau slid more than six per cent during intraday trading in Hong Kong on Friday following the Bloomberg report.

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