Beijing will add more overseas gambling destinations to its travel blacklist for Chinese nationals as it clamps down on an activity that it says sees an estimated 1 trillion yuan (US$155 billion) of capital outflows annually.
The restrictions aim to “better regulate the tourism market and safeguard the lives and property of Chinese citizens”, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on its website on Tuesday.
The blacklist – introduced in August by the tourism, public security and foreign ministries – puts travel restrictions on places where Chinese go to gamble. The tourism ministry said more destinations would be added to the list soon, without elaborating.
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While the list has not been made public, destinations in the Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam are all hotspots for Chinese gamblers. Both the tourism and foreign ministries declined to give details of the blacklist when contacted by the South China Morning Post.
“Gambling houses in the Philippines, Myanmar and other neighbouring countries have been attracting Chinese citizens recklessly in recent years,” Liao Jinrong, international cooperation bureau chief at the Ministry of Public Security, told a forum in Beijing in September.
“Cross-border gambling is often linked with organised gangs, financial fraud, abduction and trafficking, and illegal immigration,” he said. “Many overseas gambling houses also have detailed information about Chinese entrepreneurs, which poses a huge threat to their safety.”
According to the Ministry of Public Security, more than 600 Chinese suspects involved in cross-border gambling were arrested last year in joint operations with police in the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
It also said police investigated activities including alleged irregularities in overseas investments by Chinese companies and prevented some Chinese nationals from travelling to places on the blacklist as part of a gambling crackdown last year. About 75,000 Chinese were detained in over 3,500 cases during that campaign.
A Guangdong-based academic who studies cross-border capital flows said Chinese tourists were gambling an “appalling” amount of money overseas every year.
The analyst, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the number of gambling trips made by Chinese public servants had declined since Beijing tightened restrictions on their overseas travel in 2015.
But he said gambling tourism remained popular among other Chinese nationals, and that it was possible “Macau could be included on the blacklist”.
“While Beijing supports Macau’s economic development, the authorities do not want Chinese indulging in unrestrained gambling sprees,” he said.
But Bob Yeh, with the Institute for Social and Cultural Research at the Macau University of Science and Technology, disagreed, saying the expanded blacklist would be good news for Macau.
He said it mainly targeted illegal gambling in Southeast Asia.
“It’s also a protective measure for the gaming industry in Macau, which is well-regulated and will certainly not be included on the blacklist,” he said. “Macau’s economy relies on gambling. Although the central government wants it to diversify, it will be very difficult to change the status quo.”
Macau’s gaming industry was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic last year, with gross revenues down 79 per cent from 2019, according to official data.
“So this policy is beneficial for Macau,” Yeh said. If [Chinese tourists] can’t go to places in Southeast Asia, they’ll go to Macau.”
All forms of gambling apart from state-run lotteries are banned in mainland China. An amendment to China’s Criminal Law passed last month makes it a crime to “set up or manage casinos overseas” and it is illegal to “organise or solicit” Chinese nationals to travel abroad to gamble.
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