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Casino capitalism in the era of COVID-19: examining Macau’s pandemic response

Loretta Lou (Department of Sociology, University of Macau, Macao S.A.R., China)

Social Transformations in Chinese Societies

ISSN: 1871-2673

Article publication date: 26 March 2021

Issue publication date: 27 October 2021




This purpose of this paper is to explain Macau’s successful pandemic response through an analysis of its social, political and economic landscapes. In particular, it focusses on the economic relief brought by casino capitalism in this era of COVID-19.


As mobility is highly restricted during the coronavirus pandemic, digital technologies have become central to ongoing social science research. Thanks to videoconferencing programmes such as Zoom, Facetime and WhatsApp, the author was able to carry out virtual interviews with 13 local people from different sectors of Macau in July 2020. In addition to in-depth interviews, the author also undertook an extensive review of the Macau government’s pandemic policies.


This paper argues that the Macau government’s swift and effective coronavirus policies are deeply intertwined with the urban fabric and political economy of the city’s casino capitalism, which endowed the government with surplus funds and an infrastructure that enabled the implementation of an array of strict measures that few other countries could afford to subsidise. Factors that have led to Macau’s extraordinarily low rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths include: competent leadership and the public’s high compliance with mandatory health measures; the generous benefits and financial support for citizens and businesses; and the compulsory quarantine required of all incoming travellers, who are lodged in hotel rooms left empty when casino tourists stopped coming. All of these measures have been made possible by a political economy backed by the peculiarities of casino capitalism and its resultant tax revenues.

Research limitations/implications

Future research could compare the case of Macau with other small but affluent economies (ideally economies that do not depend on the gambling industry) to ascertain the role of casino capitalism in building up economic resilience.


Although previous studies tend to emphasise the negative impacts of casino capitalism, this paper shows how tax revenues and infrastructure from the gambling industry can make a contribution to the host society in times of crisis.



The author would like to thank Dr Catherine V. Howard for helping the author to polish this article and pushing the author to achieve greater clarity of argument.


Lou, L. (2021), "Casino capitalism in the era of COVID-19: examining Macau’s pandemic response", Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 69-79.



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