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Gambling with your health? Coronavirus spooks Macao casino industry

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By Joël Chatreau  & Sandrine Amiel, AP
FILE PHOTO : A croupier works at a gaming table at MGM Cotal Rescort in Macau Tuesday, Feb.13, 2018.
FILE PHOTO : A croupier works at a gaming table at MGM Cotal Rescort in Macau Tuesday, Feb.13, 2018.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Vincent Yu   -   Vincent Yu

It looks like all bets are off in Macao.

The Chinese semi-autonomous territory, which is also the world's largest gambling hub, was forced to shut all its casinos on Tuesday in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The leader of Macao asked the city's casinos close down for at least two weeks after a worker at one of them tested positive for the new virus sweeping China.

Ho Iat Seng made the request on Tuesday as the total number of cases in mainland China surged past 20,000.

Macao has so far recorded 10 cases of the virus.

'Difficult decision'

"It is a difficult decision, but we must make it, for the health of the people of Macau," Ho told reporters.

Ho added he would meet with heads of the casinos to discuss details.

Public transport and other services were also being cut back to the minimum needed to deal with emergencies, Ho said.

He urged residents to stay home and leave only to buy necessities such as food.

Blow to local economy

Macao's more than two dozen casinos account for about half of the local economy and are hugely popular with Chinese visitors, generating more than four times the revenue of those in Las Vegas.

AP Photo/Vincent Yu
People walk past MGM Cotal Rescort in Macau Tuesday, Feb.13, 2018.AP Photo/Vincent YuVincent Yu

It is only the second time in its history that the enclave was forced to shut down its entertainment industry entirely. The other precedent was in 2018, when a powerful typhoon hit Macao.

Financial stakes are running high: in twenty years, Macao's GDP has peaked, going from around 6 billion dollars to 55 billion now.