HONG KONG — The upcoming election of Macau's new leader offers something of a rarity in this Chinese gambling city: a sure thing.
There's one candidate, Fernando Chui, and odds are overwhelming he'll be rubber-stamped Sunday by a 300-member election panel in the former Portuguese colony's first change of leadership since its return to Chinese rule a decade ago.
But his all-but-assured victory comes at an uncertain time.
Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal, but this world-leading gambling center has been reeling from the economic crisis.
The territory's white-hot growth has cooled as gambling revenues have fallen. With fewer visitors, hotel rooms sit empty and multibillion dollar projects have been shelved. A city that couldn't hire workers fast enough to build and staff its new resorts now faces creeping unemployment.
Chui, 52, a former culture minister from a prominent local family, has said little about his plans for the gaming industry. The industry has its own wish list, including cuts to a gambling tax they say is too high and blunts Macau's edge over lower-taxed Singapore, where new casinos are due next year.
But few expect radical changes for now. Analysts say Chui will likely maintain existing policies governing taxes, licenses and the number of gambling tables. Significant shifts would likely need Beijing's tacit approval.
"There's nothing much he can do because everything is in the pipeline," said political analyst Larry So of Macau Polytechnic Institute. "Everyone accepts gambling policy in the near future is designed to slow the industry because it grew too fast."
The incumbent, Edmund Ho, announced last year that Macau will not issue new casino licenses and approve new applications for additional gambling tables or slot machines in the near future.
However, there are hopes that Chui's election might lead Beijing, as a goodwill gesture to a new administration, to end visa restrictions that curb visits by mainland Chinese, Macau's biggest customers by far. The rules were imposed last year by China — in what was seen as an attempt to cool the local economy — stop government officials from gambling and control money laundering. They are often blamed for sliding revenue growth.
Chui has pledged to diversify the territory's gambling-driven economy. He talks of luring more visitors with conferences, exhibitions and Macau's many cultural and historical sites.
"If I am elected, I shall take an integrated approach to development and make great efforts to promote the sustainable growth of gaming-related industries," he wrote on his campaign Web site.
Chui comes from Macau's elite. His family has sprawling business interests in property, construction, tourism and commodities. He has a doctorate in public health from the U.S., was culture minister for 10 years and served as a lawmaker before that.
He was a front-runner from the start of the race to elect a successor to Ho, who has served for 10 years.
In the nomination phase, the election commission — which is stacked with Beijing loyalists — gave Chui 286 of the 300 votes. None of the three other candidates was able to garner the minimum 50 nomination votes required to challenge him. But under the electoral rules, a poll is still required Sunday, and Chui must receive 151 votes to win his five-year term as the new chief executive — which appears to be a mere formality.
He would take office on Dec. 20 when Macau marks the 10th anniversary of its reversion to Chinese rule.
Unlike neighboring Hong Kong, Macau has a history of strong pro-China sentiment and only a token presence of pro-democracy opposition lawmakers. (Credit: AP)
Media Man Australia Profiles
Casino Travel Media
Travel and Tourism
Global Gaming Directory
World Gaming Directory
World Casino Directory
Casino News Media