Casino Colony Looks Up to China
Kurlantzick, Joshua, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
****MACAO, TIRED OF GAMBLING AND CRIME, COMES UNDER BEIJING'S CONTROL TOMORROW.****
MACAO - On any given day, the crowded hydrofoil ferry releases its cargo of raucous, jabbering Hong Kong gamblers at the pier of this tiny Portuguese colony off the coast of southern China.
With money belts open, the tsunami of casino-bound day-trippers sweeps past, leaving behind a few residents of Macao to contemplate life under Chinese rule.
"This is a unique place with the most incredible history in Asia, but it is deteriorating," said Jorge, a man of Portuguese-Chinese ancestors.
"The economy is bad. We are too dependent on gambling to make money. The streets aren't safe. I hope that China can clean the place up without destroying it."
Tomorrow, China gains control of Macao more than four centuries after it was first settled by Portuguese traders.
Unlike nearby Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, recent negotiations over the return of Macao essentially have been free of controversy.
In the waning years of Portuguese rule, many residents - weary of the colony's dependence on gambling for a living and machine guns to settle disputes - began looking to Beijing for a fresh start.
"Portugal cannot help us any longer," said Woik Leih, a shopkeeper. "They cannot stop the triads [Chinese crime gangs] or do anything about the economy. Only China can change things."
Macao has been in an economic decline since the late 19th century, when Hong Kong captured its position as a commercial center. More than a century ago, the enclave legalized gambling. Every day, thousands of visitors swarm to Macao, the only legal place to gamble in the region.
On an average night at the Lisboa, the ritziest casino in town, bettors wait in long lines for places at pai-gow (an Asian casino game) tables, chat with Russian prostitutes and call Hong Kong to check on the day's horse races.
Tourism and gambling account for 43 percent of the colony's economy. Because Macao's economy is built on betting, an industry that criminal elements can infiltrate easily, many gangs, or triads, have set up operations in the colony. They rob high rollers, provide prostitutes, supply drugs and offer high-interest loans.
In recent years, triads have gunned each other down at an astonishing rate.
There have been 37 gang-related slayings this year in Macao, which has a population of roughly 437,000. Last year, Judicial Police Director Antonio Marques barely escaped death when his dog detected a bomb under his car seconds before it exploded.
Virtually every day, the enclave's tabloids report on the exploits of organized-crime leaders with colorful names like Broken Tooth Wan. …