Macau has overtaken Las Vegas to become the world's gambling capital and is enjoying rapid growth, but violent clashes on international Labour Day indicate that the small southern Chinese city is socially ill, say local Christian leaders - writes Francis Wong for ENI.
Thousands of people in the former Portuguese enclave in China took to the streets on 1 May 2007 to expressed dissatisfaction at poor governance in the city, citing corruption. They also noted unhappiness at sharp increases of imported labour and hikes in property prices.
During the May Day clashes, 10 protesters were arrested and police fired shots into the air as a warning, accidentally injuring a passer-by. Church leaders said that the clash was a manifestation of social problems.
"Young people are now becoming more materialistic. Some of my students even quit school to join the gambling industry. They earn a monthly salary of more than 10,000 patacas (US$ 1,282), which is higher than that of a university graduate," Iny Chu, a Methodist teaching at a Roman Catholic secondary school in Macau, told Ecumenical News International in a 3 May telephone interview.
"This society is orientated towards the gambling industry. Young people are attracted to work in casinos. They believe that education is no use," said Chu, the former president of the Macau University Christians' Association. "At school, we held seminars for students, to show them the positive and negative sides of gambling, and to discuss the value of money with them."
Macau and Hong Kong are Special Administrative Regions of China, 45 minutes apart by high-speed jetfoil.
Christine Sum, the principal secretary of the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) in Macau, told ENI: "Gambling is a major economic activity here. What concerns us, is the esteem that youths have for it. I even know of young teachers who have left schools to work at casinos for higher salary." The YMCA was to join a number of church social service agencies, including the Anglican Macau Social Services Coordination Office, to launch a "No Gambling Campaign" on 4 May.
Seiko Lee, in charge of the Anglican Social Services Office said that a recent survey showed that among 1200 young people interviewed, 10 percent of them are now working in casinos or the gambling industry and that another 30 percent said they planned such careers. Lee told ENI there is a dire need for financial education and career counselling in the city.
Macau now has 22 casinos which generated total gambling revenues of 56.2 billion patacas (US$ 7.2 billion) in 2006. In contrast, Las Vegas generated US$ 6.6 billion last year.
The city, once well known as an East-West missionary meeting point, attained a GDP per capita of 227,508 patacas (US$ 29,147) in 2006. Despite this, note some commentators, there is a widening gap between rich and poor.