Macau ponders future even as tourists and gamblers return

Macau's streets were packed in the run-up to the Lunar New Year after pandemic controls were abruptly lifted but it is far from business as usual as the Chinese casino hub

wrestles with questions about its future. Mainland Chinese tourists filled winding passages leading up to the historic Ruins of Saint Paul's, and stores selling local snacks

like almond cookies and meat jerky had trouble keeping up. "We don't have enough goods for this Lunar New Year as we didn't expect this," a business owner surnamed Li told

AFP. Tourists may now be back, but Beijing wants the former Portuguese colony to diversify its casinos-reliant economy.  President Xi Jinping has led a years-long

anti-corruption campaign that clamped down on money laundering and gambling. Yet quitting gambling -- and the huge tax revenues casinos generate -- will be a hard habit to

break. "The government has an inherent conflict," gaming consultant David Green told AFP. "It needs to be seen by the central government to be promoting non-gaming,

but... it has to be cognisant of maintaining its revenue stream." The city of some 700,000 is the only place in China where casinos operate legally and for years has relied

on mainland Chinese gamblers as its economic lifeline. Last year Macau saw gaming revenues plunge to a record low of 42 billion patacas ($5.2 billion) after the government

shut down most businesses at the height of a coronavirus wave. - 'Can't use the old ways' - Macau issues just six operating concessions for a multi-billion-dollar

industry that, until the pandemic hit, generated six times the gaming revenue of Las Vegas.