The Rise of Macau: How the World’s Gambling Capital Transformed Itself

Macau, once a colony of Portugal and only handed back over to China a little over a decade ago, is the gambling capital of the world with five times the annual gambling revenue of Las Vegas.


Benjamin Carlson’s Broken Tooth and New Macau for Foreign Press is a tale of gambling, organized crime, and urban resurgence that uses the story of former crime boss Wan Kuok-koi, aka Broken Tooth, who was arrested in 1998 around the time of the transition to PRC rule, as a backdrop for illustrating the city’s radical transformation from Portuguese colony to world gambling center.


When Wan Kuok-koi was imprisoned, Macau was a ramshackle hinterland colony of Portugal and a place he ruled with an iron fist. Though Portugal had repeatedly attempted to return Macau to China in the 1970s as part of its national de-colonialization program, China only retook control of the city in 1999, when its main industry was textiles.

During Portuguese rule, Macau was dominated by triads who controlled various rackets throughout the city. Their prosperity was possible because of Portugal’s lax approach to government in the colony. Within a year of retaking control, China established a People’s Liberation Army garrison in Macau and crime dropped an astounding 46% in a year.

While Wan Kuok-koi may not want to return to a life of crime, it is rumored that he may still find great wealth waiting for him in Macau: Reportedly his old triad friends want to cut him in on a share of the lucrative junket trade in Macau.


[Foreign Press]