The Portuguese Macao government suffered a reduction of fiscal revenue when Macao (Macau) lost its advantages in the international maritime trade facing the opening-up of Hong Kong as a trade port after the Opium War. It thus increased the fiscal revenue by introducing the monopoly system that auctioned the operating rights of certain goods, services, and industries. The highest bidder were granted the franchise to run businesses with law protection and were required to pay commitment fees to the government according to the contract. Some industries, including gambling, opium, and prostitution, were also legalised and included in the monopoly system. They even became the economic backbone of the Portuguese Macao government. In addition to these perverse industries, Macao also became a notorious port of coolie trade in the mid-19th century, with a number of recruitment agencies, or commonly known in Portuguese as “Baracons”, transporting Chinese indentured labourers overseas. Although opium, prostitution, and coolie trade generated huge revenue for Macao, they put the Portuguese Macao government under criticism of the international community. The censure eventually forced Macao to ban most of these perverse industries, except for the gambling industry that is still surviving today.
Chinese restaurants, inns, and gambling houses in Macao in the late 19th century. (Collected by Mr. Lei Kun-min, provided by Macao Association for Historical Education, cited from “Macau Memory”, Macao Foundation)
Chinese people playing the Fantan Game in a Macao gambling house in late 19th century. (Collected by Mr. Lei Kun-min, provided by Macao Association for Historical Education, cited from “Macau Memory”, Macao Foundation)
The International Race & Recreation Club of Macao in Areia Preta was built by Lou Lim-ioc and other businessmen. Opened in 1927 and closed in 1941, the abandoned racecourse was used for hosting wooden settlements and vegetable gardens. (Collected by Mr. Lei Kun-min, provided by Macao Association for Historical Education, cited from “Macau Memory”, Macao Foundation)
Central Hotel, formerly known as President Hotel, was once the most luxurious hotel in Macao. Hou Heng Company and Tai Heng Company opened casinos in the hotel in 1931 and 1937 respectively.
Hotel Lisboa Macau, completed in 1970, was once the largest casino in Macao and an icon of the city’s gambling industry.
Casino Jai Alai built in 1972. Originally stood as the Basque Pelota Palace, the pelota ground was later converted into a casino and theatre. (Collected by Mr. Lei Kun-min, provided by Macao Association for Historical Education, cited from “Macau Memory”, Macao Foundation)
Dogs racing at the Macau (Yat Yuen) Canidrome Club. It was opened in 1931 and closed down five years later. It reopened in 1963 as the last greyhound racing stadium in Asia and ceased operation in 2018.
A singer at Rua da Felicidade. Rua da Felicidade, Beco de Felicida, and Travessa do Auto Novo in Macao was a hub of brothels.
Praça de Ponte e Horta was the customs agency and berth of Portuguese Macao government in the 19th century. The yellow house besides it was once an opium warehouse known as the “opium house”. The opium industry was once a Macao’s economic pillar. (Photo taken and provided by Mr. Chan Hin-io, cited from “Macau Memory”, Macao Foundation)
Large numbers of Chinese coolies taking the vessel to work abroad. Macao was an important port for coolie trade in the second half of the 19th century.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Alex Lou, Vice Chairman of The Heritage Society (pictures 4 and 5), Macao Foundation (pictures 1-3, 6 and 9), and Fotoe (pictures 7, 8 and 10).