BEIJING — Mainland Chinese residents will be allowed to visit Macau using an online visa system as of Tuesday, officials said, streamlining travel to the world's largest gambling hub after more than 2 years of pandemic restrictions.
Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal and the former Portuguese colony once dwarfed even Las Vegas for the scale of bets placed every month.
But China's strict COVID-19 controls have laid waste to the city's gaming sector, hammering its economy.
Beijing will launch an electronic visa system from Nov. 1, China's Immigration Administration announced on Monday in a statement.
For the past 2 and a half years, visitors from the mainland have been required to submit detailed, in-person applications to visit the Chinese territory, with approvals typically limited to essential business travel.
Monday's announcement paves the way for mainland travel groups -- which once made up the vast majority of punters -- to return to the roulette tables.
China's immigration authorities said they now judged the COVID situation in Macau to be "stable" despite health officials in the city locking down a large casino complex on Sunday over a handful of infections.
Macau's 700,000 residents must also take daily rapid antigen tests until Tuesday, the government said.
The city remains largely closed to overseas visitors and maintains a 7-day hotel quarantine policy.
And even if pandemic measures are fully lifted, it is unlikely Macau's casinos will see a return to their busiest days, analysts said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign that has increased scrutiny of the high-rollers and officials who travel to gamble in Macau, where cases of money laundering are common.