Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 12:37 UK

Macau to stop gambling expansion

Queues at the MGM Grand casino
A new MGM Grand casino opened in Macau in December

Macau's Chief Executive Edmund Ho has announced a freeze on gaming licences and the construction of new casinos.

The move coincides with reports that Beijing is putting pressure on the territory to diversify its economy away from gambling.

There are concerns that corrupt officials from the Chinese mainland are spending illicit cash there.

Gambling revenue in Macau is reportedly higher than on the Las Vegas strip in the United States.

Many Chinese are keen gamblers and Macau is the only part of China where casinos are allowed.

But there are reports of popular discontent at the growing income gap in the former Portuguese colony.

Booming business

Mr Ho told legislators that the number of gaming licences in Macau would be capped at six.

"The number of licensed casino operators will remain the same for a period of time and the government will not approve new applications for land use filed by gaming companies," Mr Ho said in a statement.

Macau's casino sector has been booming since a 2001 law stripped casino tycoon Stanley Ho's SJM group of its monopoly.

Many Las Vegas operators have been attracted since then, and there are currently 29 casinos with more than 4,300 gaming tables in operation, according to statistics from the Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau.

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