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Macau introduces new ATM rules to deter Chinese money laundering

[HONG KONG] Macau's government is requiring facial recognition and identification card checks at ATMs before Chinese UnionPay cardholders can withdraw cash, a stepped-up measure to curb money laundering in the world's largest casino hub.

Holders of China UnionPay Co cards issued by banks in China must show mainland identification cards and have their identities verified through a facial recognition system for ATM cash withdrawals, according to a Macau government statement late Sunday. The technology will be eventually applied to all ATMs, focusing on ones in casinos, according to the statement.

"The government spares no effort to implement anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism rules," it said in the statement.

The move is Macau's latest effort to strengthen anti-money laundering rules in the territory, the only place in China where gambling is legal. Chinese authorities are seeking to halt billions of dollars worth of outflows that have pushed down the value of the currency and drained capital reserves. The ATM rules follow a ban last year that prohibits proxy betting by telephone aimed at staunching bets from gamblers in China.

Market voices on:

The ATM rules, which didn't come with a timeline for rollout, are not expected to curb demand significantly, JPMorgan Chase & Co analyst DS Kim wrote in a note Monday. It's common to see people using multiple cards to withdraw cash from Macau ATMs, with some possibly using other peoples' accounts or cards, Kim wrote.

Still, there are other channels that players and junket operators employ to get cash in Macau, he said.

"We can't rule out any potential impact on "player psychology," as some players/junkets may feel reluctant to use ATM cards given increased ID checks," Mr Kim wrote.

"The news could and will likely remind many investors of how vulnerable the sector is to regulatory issues, and may serve as a 'wake-up call' to the sector's inherent headline risks."

The Bloomberg Intelligence index of Macau gaming shares dropped as much as 0.8 per cent Monday, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index gained as much as 0.6 per cent.

NPC Chairman Visit

The new rules come as National People's Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang, the Chinese Communist Party's third-most-senior leader, arrives Monday for a three-day visit to Macau, according to the South China Morning Post. The paper reported that he's expected to make a major announcement during the trip, which comes as the party prepares for a leadership reshuffle later this year.

Macau's casino revenue in April grew for a ninth straight month as high-stakes players, most from China, continued to return to the tables at casinos including the Wynn Macau Ltd and Sands China Ltd. Gross gaming receipts rose 16.3 per cent to 20.2 billion patacas (S$3.51 billion) in April.