5 Differences Between Macau and Hong Kong Gambling


I’m here in Macau as part of our Pivot to Asia Tour. Macau is the often overlooked Special Administrative Region, or S.A.R., of China. Like Hong Kong, it’s officially under the One Country, Two Systems policy.

That’s where Hong Kong and Macau are officially part of China’s territory, but have their own separate governments, and currencies, and border control. It was the agreement the Chinese Communist Party made with the former colonial powers in charge— because, let’s face it, everyone knew the system in mainland China left something to be desired. But that’s about where the similarities between Hong Kong and Macau end.

And here are 5 major differences.

Number 5: Colonial History Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842 after the first Opium War. The British seriously built up the place and made it into an important, and prosperous, gateway to mainland China.

But in 1997, the British Empire reluctantly gave Hong Kong back to China— under the condition that the Communist Party allow Hong Kong to have a high degree of autonomy. Unsurprisingly, since 1997, the Communist Party has been working hard to renege on that promise. Photos from the handover show that then-leader Jiang Zemin had his fingers crossed behind his back the whole time.

Macau, on the other hand, was under Portuguese influence for more than 400 years. Portuguese first settled there in the mid-16th century, and it officially became a Portuguese colony in the 19th century. It used to be a big trading hub, but as the Portuguese empire declined, Macau stopped being as prosperous. Macau’s handover to China happened in 1999 with way less of a fuss than Hong Kong.

Number 4: Languages The two official languages of Macau are Cantonese and Portuguese, even though few people in Macau speak Portuguese anymore. Many signs around the city will have Chinese characters and Portuguese.

But because of the influence of mainland China and the influx of mainland tourists, more and more people in Macau are speaking Mandarin. Hong Kong, being a former British colony, has long been dominated by Cantonese and English. However, in 2012, Mandarin narrowly overtook English as the second most commonly spoken language in Hong Kong, thanks to efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to spread Mandarin, especially in the education system.

Number 3: The Economy The British turned Hong Kong into a world city. Today it’s one of the biggest financial centers in the world, called one of the Four Tigers of Asia, along with Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea.

Macau’s economy is much smaller than Hong Kong’s. It’s also rich, but for different reasons. It’s basically Las Vegas on steroids. In 2013, Macau’s gambling industry was seven times bigger than Las Vegas’s, with a whopping $45 billion in gambling revenue. Macau is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. So it’s no surprise that Macau is the 6th biggest tourist destination in Asia.

But it’s also taken a hit recently. Because you know how gambling is a great way to launder money? I mean, um, I don’t know that. But corrupt Chinese officials sure do! But now Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has officials running scared.

Just 12 months after Xi’s visit to Macau in 2014, shares of Macau’s six casino operators plunged by more than half.

Number 2: Macau is the model S.A.R. Between Macau and Hong Kong, Macau is clearly the filial child.

Not like that Hong Kong— always getting involved in democracy protests, demanding freedom, and generally causing trouble for those hardworking communist officials in Beijing. Fortunately, in Macau, there is almost no democratic movement, let alone an independence movement. That’s why Chinese state-run media have praised Macau. After Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, the People’s Daily published an editorial saying, “Macau people are content and grateful. Hong Kong people are a bit rebellious and resistant.” Global Times wrote, “Political stability is the key to Macau’s economic development which ensures social stability. The One Country Two Systems have maximized Macau’s development potential.

And Number 1: Anti-Subversion Law Imagine police being allowed to burst into your home, search your stuff, and arrest you without a warrant, just because you’re suspected of “subversion” of the Chinese Communist Party. Well, Article 23 is a draconian anti-subversion law that could do just that. In 2003, when Beijing pushed the Hong Kong government to pass it, half a million Hong Kong citizens took to the streets in protest, and stopped it. Macau, on the other hand, passed Article 23 seven years ago— with almost no resistance. Uhh, wait a minute. Shelley, am I safe here in Macau?

Ok. So I’m going to wrap this up. What do you think are the biggest differences between Hong Kong and Macau? Leave your comments below.