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Economic recovery in 2023 led to surge in gaming-related crimes in Macau


Macau saw a notable uptick in gambling-related crimes in 2023 compared to the previous year, with authorities in the SAR attributing this rise to an influx of tourists and the resurgence of the gambling sector.

Despite this increase, statistics revealed on Wednesday by the Macau Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, show a significant decline in such offenses compared to 2019, the period preceding the epidemic, indicating the efficacy of preventive measures enforced by law enforcement agencies.

Following the easing of epidemic-related restrictions and border crossing measures, the landscape of gambling-related crimes underwent a shift.

While traditional offenses like loan sharking and kidnapping saw a decrease, instances of fraud, theft, and embezzlement surged notably.

The resurgence of the gambling industry also brought about a rise in the number of “money exchange swindlers,” whose activities have become more frequent.

Most involved criminals from mainland China

The data highlights a notable disparity between local and non-local involvement in these illicit activities.

Among the suspects implicated in gambling-related crimes last year, 183 were residents of Macau, while a staggering 884 hailed from mainland China. Additionally, there were 78 suspects from Hong Kong, three from Taiwan, and 16 foreigners.

This distribution indicates a proportion of approximately one local resident to every 5.4 non-locals. Comparing these figures to 2022, there was a noticeable rise of 24.5 percent in Macau residents involved, alongside a striking 239.4 percent increase in non-local suspects.

Similarly, concerning the victims of these crimes, 111 were residents of Macau, whereas 626 were from Mainland China, 67 from Hong Kong, eight from Taiwan, and 10 foreigners.

Economic recovery in 2023 led to surge in gaming-related crimes in Macau
Macau Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak (middle)

This translates to a proportion of approximately one local resident to every 6.4 non-locals among the victims. Compared to the previous year, there was a 54.2 percent increase in Macau residents victimized, alongside a 407.9 percent surge in non-local victims.

These statistics underscore the predominance of non-local individuals among both suspects and victims of gambling-related offenses. The comparison between 2023 and 2022 further reveals a significant rise in involvement from both local and non-local individuals, with non-locals experiencing a particularly sharp increase.

The surge in tourist numbers and the recovery of the gambling industry have fueled the activities of groups engaged in illegal money exchange, commonly known as “money exchange swindlers.”

This has led to a notable uptick in illegal and criminal activities in the region. According to data from the Judiciary Police (PJ), fraud emerged as the primary offense in 2023, with 240 reported cases, marking a staggering 122.2 percent increase from the previous year’s 108 cases.

These fraudulent activities primarily involved counterfeit notes and fake money transfers, posing a threat to both security and the general population, especially concerning the safety of tourists’ belongings, note authorities.

To combat the rising tide of illegal money exchange activities, the Macau Police have intensified cooperation with their counterparts in mainland China.

Joint efforts include investigations into the source and transmission chain of capital among groups engaged in such activities, with collaborative operations yielding significant results, say officials. Notably, in March of the last year, the PJ and mainland China Police collaborated to dismantle a cross-border fraud group.

Investigations revealed the group’s involvement in 54 similar cases between 2021 and 2023, resulting in the arrest of 61 members and the seizure of approximately MOP7.38 million ($914,628).

In response, the Macau Judiciary Police have pledged to intensify efforts in combating illegal money exchange activities and associated crimes, aiming to uphold societal stability and security while fostering the healthy growth of Macau’s gambling sector.

Authorities also indicate that nearly two years since the implementation of the revised “Legal Framework for the Operation of Casino Gambling,” there have been no discernible adverse effects on societal security.

The Security Bureau, along with the police services under its purview, highlighted it would remain committed to addressing the ‘uncertain factors impacting the gambling industry’s development’.

Nelson Moura
Nelson Moura
Editor and reporter with 10 years of experience in Greater China, namely Taiwan and Macau, in printed and online media, with a focus on finance, gaming, politics, crime, business and social issues.