HONG KONG, June 27 (Reuters) - One of Macau’s top government officials has said retail stores operating in casino halls in the southern Chinese territory will be banned from adding new bank card terminals from next month as the gambling hub intensifies moves to curb money being taken illegally out of China.
Macau, a special administrative region like neighbouring Hong Kong, is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.
Francis Tam, secretary for economy and finance, clarified in a statement that while Macau authorities have requested financial institutions to strengthen their supervision of large transactions of China’s state-backed UnionPay card, card devices already located within the gaming area do not have to be removed.
This contrasts to what Macau bankers and casino executives were told in May, when banks were urged to restrict the use of UnionPay and curb loans or funding to retailers identified by UnionPay as engaging in illegal transactions.
Macau is the world’s largest gambling market and a popular destination for Chinese gamers who bet up to millions of yuan at a time.
Hong Kong-listed casino stocks jumped between 3-4 percent on Thursday with investors eyeing the clarification as a good buying opportunity in the sector, which has been hit by heavy selling in recent weeks due to a slew of regulatory curbs.
Chinese nationals, who are only allowed to take up to 20,000 yuan, or $3,200, out of China in cash a day, often get around this limit by pretending to purchase expensive items from such stores using their UnionPay cards. Instead of actually receiving the items, the punters are given cash.
Any measures that would reduce the amount of Chinese money coming into Macau would impact the territory’s economic growth because of its overwhelming dependence on mainland Chinese gamblers. Macau’s gambling revenues grew by almost 20 percent in 2013 to $45 billion. This year, Fitch analysts expect growth of 12 percent. (Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Matt Driskill)