In Macau, Pawnshops Bankroll Mainland Gamblers

Pawnshops play the role of banks for mainland gamblers
A pawnshop display in Macau, offering a watch for MOP 3,399,400—$425,369 Photograph by Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Across from casino mogul Stanley Ho’s Grand Lisboa in Macau, flashing neon lights invite cash-strapped gamblers to pawn their Rolexes and other valuables so they can return to the gaming tables. In almost any other city, these “receptacles of misery and distress,” as Charles Dickens termed pawnshops, thrive in times of economic downturn. Not in Macau, where they help fuel a casino business whose revenues are more than six times those of the Las Vegas Strip. The shops enable the mainland Chinese who crowd the gaming tables to sidestep China’s currency controls.

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