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Chinese Gamblers See Macau As Bad Bet Amid Corruption Crackdown

Wynn Macau casino resort is one of several new glitzy hotel-casinos that have gone up in the former Portuguese colony since the gambling industry there was liberalized in 2002. Bobby Yip/Reuters /Landov hide caption

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Bobby Yip/Reuters /Landov

Wynn Macau casino resort is one of several new glitzy hotel-casinos that have gone up in the former Portuguese colony since the gambling industry there was liberalized in 2002.

Bobby Yip/Reuters /Landov

Revenue at casinos in the Asian gambling mecca of Macau fell in 2014 for the first time in more than a decade, as Chinese government officials are increasingly betting that it's a bad idea to show their wealth amid Beijing's aggressive crackdown on corruption.

According to data released today by Macau's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, revenue at the territory's casinos fell 2.6 percent in 2014, with December posting a record 30.4 percent fall over the same period in 2013.

Macau has emerged as the world's largest gambling center — far outstripping Las Vegas in terms of revenue — since China liberalized the territory's gaming industry in 2002. U.S. gaming tycoons Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson now operate lucrative casinos there.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt has reported, the economy in the former Portuguese colony has exploded in recent years and the skyline is now studded with dazzling new hotel-casinos built to tap into "mainlanders' passion for gambling and their rocketing incomes." However, he says:

"[Since] June, Macau's take has tumbled every month, according to local government figures. In October, revenue plunged 23 percent, the biggest drop on record.

"Insiders say China's anti-corruption crackdown is scaring off high rollers — including corrupt officials."

As the BBC notes:

"Shares of casinos listed in neighbouring Hong Kong fell by between 32% and 51% in 2014, underperforming the benchmark Hang Seng index, which fell just 2%.

"Shares of big names such as Wynn Macau, Melco Crown and Galaxy Entertainment were down more than 2.5% after the figures were released on the first trading day of the new year.

"Macau's casinos have lost a combined $58bn in market value over the past six months, according to Reuters."