In 1999, Macau, the first and the last European settlement on the China coast reverted back to Chinese sovereignty after 450 years of Portuguese rule. Shortly after the handover, this once tranquil fishing enclave became engulfed in a multi-billion dollar casino boom that took the region by storm.
Situated on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, this semi-autonomous region is the sole territory within China that permits gambling. Annual gambling revenue from Macau’s thirty-three casinos is more than double that of Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined. Macau’s unbelievable growth would not have been possible without a heavy reliance on imported workers, needed to meet the astounding demand of the casino industry. The majority of the 100,000 foreign workers come from mainland China, although a growing number of migrants have been drawn to the city from South Asian countries. They work in menial jobs such as security guards and cleaners, hoping to earn better wages to support their families back home, but they are often abused and neglected by their managers.
Macau is one of the most densely populated region in the world, with a population of 18,428 persons per square kilometer. Vastly overcrowded neighbourhoods surround the border crossing to the city of Zhuhai, the gateway into mainland China. Despite the huge economic growth over recent years, there is a striking contrast between the newly acquired wealth of the casinos and the dilapidated northern districts of Macau, which house the city’s poorest residents.
I have documented the effects of this immense casino boom, in order to reflect how it has transformed this once sleepy and quaint corner of the People’s Republic of China.