Chinese Gambling — by the Numbers

Something’s gotta give. Chinese love to gamble, but gambling is illegal in mainland China. The former Portuguese colony of Macau — the only Chinese territory where gambling is legal — cannot meet Chinese demand, nor can the illegal casinos and gambling dens that have sprouted up in cities and towns across China. While China flirts ...

Victor Fraile/Getty Images
Victor Fraile/Getty Images
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

Something's gotta give. Chinese love to gamble, but gambling is illegal in mainland China. The former Portuguese colony of Macau -- the only Chinese territory where gambling is legal -- cannot meet Chinese demand, nor can the illegal casinos and gambling dens that have sprouted up in cities and towns across China. While China flirts with legalizing gambling (as I explain in "The Big Bet," by allowing parts of Hainan, an island province that benefits from special economic policies, to experiment with casinos and poker tournaments), casinos are encircling China -- from South Korea to the north to Cambodia to the south to even Kazakhstan to the west. Perhaps the most grandiose and quixotic plans belong to William Weidner, who is trying to build a second Macau on the tiny Taiwanese islands of Matsu. If China legalizes gambling on the mainland, or in Hainan, Weidner's plans will likely fail. But if he can build his resort first -- well, the numbers speak for themselves.

Projected size of Asia-Pacific casino gaming market by 2015: $80 billion

Size of Asia-Pacific casino gaming market in 2010: $34 billion

Something’s gotta give. Chinese love to gamble, but gambling is illegal in mainland China. The former Portuguese colony of Macau — the only Chinese territory where gambling is legal — cannot meet Chinese demand, nor can the illegal casinos and gambling dens that have sprouted up in cities and towns across China. While China flirts with legalizing gambling (as I explain in "The Big Bet," by allowing parts of Hainan, an island province that benefits from special economic policies, to experiment with casinos and poker tournaments), casinos are encircling China — from South Korea to the north to Cambodia to the south to even Kazakhstan to the west. Perhaps the most grandiose and quixotic plans belong to William Weidner, who is trying to build a second Macau on the tiny Taiwanese islands of Matsu. If China legalizes gambling on the mainland, or in Hainan, Weidner’s plans will likely fail. But if he can build his resort first — well, the numbers speak for themselves.

Projected size of Asia-Pacific casino gaming market by 2015: $80 billion

Size of Asia-Pacific casino gaming market in 2010: $34 billion

Year when Asia-Pacific will surpass the U.S. as the largest regional casino gaming market in the world: 2013

Number of tourists Macau attracts annually: 27 million

Number of tourists Las Vegas attracts annually: 39.7 million

Tourists per Macau resident: 54 to 1

Tourists per Las Vegas resident: 67 to 1

Average amount spent gambling in Macau in 2009: $667

Average amount spent gambling in Las Vegas in 2009: $243

Macau gambling revenue in 2012: $38 billion

Las Vegas gambling revenue in 2012: $6 billion

The last year Las Vegas out-gambled Macau: 2005

Size of mainland China’s legal lottery market: $40 billion

Number of times larger the legal lottery market is now than when it launched in 1987: 15,000

Number of times bigger China’s illegal domestic gambling market is than the legal market: 10

Number of hotel rooms in Macau: 26,000

Number of hotel rooms Weidner wants to build in Matsu: 26,000

Population of Macau: 500,000

Population of Matsu: 10,000

Distance from mainland China to Matsu: 3 miles

Number of legal casinos in North Korea: at least 1

Number of legal casinos in mainland China: Zero. For now… 

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

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