Top China official urges economic diversification for Macau gaming hub

A general view of Macau peninsula, China October 8, 2015. Picture taken October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China’s number three official Zhang Dejiang emphasized the need for Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, to diversify its economy as he arrived on Monday for a three-day visit to inspect various industries and meet lawmakers.

The former Portuguese colony has been governed under a “one country, two systems” arrangement since it was handed to China in 1999.

Speaking on the tarmac next to children waving flowers and a red banner welcoming his arrival, Zhang, who is chairman of China’s National People’s Congress said Macau has made “brilliant achievements” since the handover.

“But now Macau faces an important stage as it makes a transition in its development,” Zhang said, adding the Central Government has strengthened its support for the special administrative region this year.

He did not specifically address the gaming industry during his five minute speech, but China’s government has previously stated policy goals for Macau which include becoming an international leisure center and a platform between Portuguese speaking countries and China.

New casinos being built on a reclaimed land patch designed as Macau’s Las Vegas-styled Cotai casino strip, have been forced by authorities to include significant non-gaming amenities to try and shift away from gambling.

Macau’s economy is highly reliant on the gambling industry, accounting for over 80 percent of the government’s revenues. The tiny territory, home to 600,000 people, saw revenues plummet to five year lows after President Xi Jinping announced an anti-graft campaign which sapped sentiment in gambling.

Ahead of Zhang’s visit Macau authorities announced new measures to monitor withdrawals at ATMs with facial recognition technology, as the Chinese territory seeks to further tighten restrictions on cash flows out of the mainland.

Zhang is scheduled to meet members of Macau’s legislative assembly, according to the Macau government. Macau is due to hold a Legislative Assembly election in September.

Reporting by Venus Wu and Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry