Macau Gets New Leader for Gambling City

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MACAU --  (Associated Press) - With no competition, Macau's new leader was appointed Sunday while the world's gambling capital and Chinese enclave struggles with an industry slump brought on by the economic crisis and tougher visa restrictions.

Fernando Chui's endorsement by a 300-member panel loyal to Beijing was a mere formality: he was the sole candidate for chief executive in the former Portuguese colony's first leadership change since reverting to Chinese rule in 1999.

Chui, 52, will figure prominently in shaping the gambling industry in Macau, the only place in China where casinos are legal. After years of spectacular growth that helped it overtake the Las Vegas Strip, the territory's market has started to sputter over the last year from the global downturn and travel curbs on mainland Chinese tourists.

But with much of the city's gaming policy already cemented, Chui, a former culture minister, isn't expected to bring any major changes right away.

"We will mainly follow these policies to allow Macau's gambling sector to develop in a healthy manner and hopefully it will hold an edge in Asia," Chui said. "The policy for the next few years is basically set.

"Everyone has to work extra hard in this competition to maintain the outstanding results that we have achieved in the gambling sector in the past few years," he added.

The incumbent, Edmund Ho, announced last year that Macau will not issue new casino licenses or approve new applications for additional gambling tables or slot machines in the near future.


But there are growing expectations Chui's election might lead Beijing, as a goodwill gesture to a new administration, to end the visa restrictions on mainland visitors, Macau's biggest customers by far.

Casino mogul Stanley Ho, whose SJM Holdings is Macau's largest gambling company by market share, said he believed Chui wouldn't push for more regulations on the industry. He suggested Chui could also help tame some of the acrimony among Macau's six casino operators.

"He will ensure that there should not be any fighting among the six of us and we should work together for the good of the citizens, for the good of Macau," said Ho, a member of the election committee that picked Chui.

Chui received 282 votes on Sunday, according to Chu Kin, president of Macau's electoral affairs committee. He will take office in December and serve a five-year term after his appointment receives formal approval from Beijing.

Unlike neighboring Hong Kong, about an hour away by ferry, this city of more than a half million people has a history of strong pro-China sentiment and only a token presence of pro-democracy opposition lawmakers. In Sunday's poll, several lawmakers cast blank ballots to protest the electoral system.


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