One public hospital, 36 casinos: Macau's skewed bet on prosperity

Sun Oct 21, 2012 4:55pm EDT
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By Farah Master

MACAU (Reuters) - A short walk from billionaire Stanley Ho's extravagant Grand Lisboa casino stands the faded pink exterior of the Conde S. Januário, Macau's only public hospital.

Inside, bathroom tiles are stained and paint peels off the walls along the corridors where patients queue to be examined by busy medical staff. The hospital, built in the 1980s, serves the former Portuguese colony's more than half a million residents.

A new hospital is planned, but won't open until 2019. By then, Macau is expected to have added another six glitzy casinos to the three dozen that already make it the world's betting capital, as Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn and others continue to bet on the only place where Chinese can legally gamble.

Life in Macau, a southern Chinese enclave one third of the size of Manhattan, is geared to gambling, which brings in revenue of more than $33 billion and accounts for more than 40 percent of GDP. There are more than four times as many gambling tables per 1,000 residents than hospital beds.

To many who live in what is both the world's most densely populated territory and fastest growing economy, the priorities are all wrong.

"It's unacceptable. These facilities are a joke. This is the main hospital in Macau," said Simon, who has lived in Macau for five years and works in the hotel industry, as he wheeled his toddler up and down in a narrow car park waiting for his wife.

Macau last year attracted 28 million visitors - more than the population of Australia - and while the gambling industry has boosted general living standards over the past decade, residents say the development of social infrastructure, including healthcare and transport, has lagged behind.


People walk on a street in a residential district in Macau October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip