Gambling tourists to Macau may have to declare cash

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The world’s largest gambling hub Macau, China is studying a “cross-border cash declaration system, but no timeframe, declaration threshold or penalties are determined yet at the present stage,” Deborah Ng, director of the city’s Financial Intelligence Office, said in an e-mail yesterday.

It would mean both domestic and foreign tourists would be required to declare cash when entering the Mecca of gambling in China.

Visitors from China’s mainland have helped fuel a boom in Macau’s casinos, turning the city into the world’s largest gambling hub with $38 billion in revenue last year. Any controls imposed by Macau’s government would back China’s currency curbs, which restrict how much money Chinese tourists can take out of the country.

“Such talk may hurt the sentiment on Macau casino stocks,” Victor Yip, a Hong Kong-based analyst at UOB Kay Hian Ltd., said by phone today. “But it won’t hurt the casino revenue because there are so many different ways a traveler can get cash in Macau.”

Travelers to Macau currently aren’t required to report how much cash they bring in when entering the city, said Daniel Tang, a press officer at the agency.

Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. (27), a Macau casino operator controlled by billionaire Lui Che-woo, dropped 2.8 percent to HK$35.9 as of 10:17 a.m. in Hong Kong trading. Sands China dropped 0.1 percent, Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. (MPEL) lost 0.5 percent and SJM Holdings (880) fell 0.9 percent. The city’s benchmark Hang Seng index gained 0.2 percent.

Capital Controls
Tourists from mainland China can bring 20,000 yuan ($3,260) when traveling across the border and withdraw as much as 10,000 yuan a day with each card at cash machines. High stake gamblers, who contribute about two thirds of the city’s casino revenue, rely on middlemen, called junket operators, for credit to make big bets.

To skirt the cap on yuan they can take out of China, gamblers buy expensive goods from pawnshops using debit cards and trade them in for cash at the same store.

The use of junkets, otherwise known as VIP room operators, by casino companies in Macau limits their ability to prevent money laundering and other illegal activities, one of Nevada’s top regulators said in testimony last month.

Criminal transactions “are widely alleged to take place just out of the direct purview of the casino,” A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, said in testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in Washington in June.