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Macau Sept gambling revenues fall by most in 5 yrs on China anti-graft drive

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By Farah Master

MACAU, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Gambling revenue in the world's biggest gaming hub Macau recorded their steepest drop in more than five years in September as China's campaign against corruption and a slowing economy kept big-spending customers away.

Revenues of Macau's 35 casinos fell 11.7 percent to 25.6 billion patacas ($3.21 billion) in September from 29 billion patacas in the same month a year ago, government data released on Monday showed.

The decline was the steepest since June 2009, the data showed, but marginally better than analysts' forecasts for a 13-15 percent drop. Gambling accounts for more than 90 percent of Macau's government revenues, and September was the fourth consecutive month of decline this year.

"The crackdown, transit visa restrictions and other factors have hit revenues and we don't expect this situation to get better anytime soon," said a gaming analyst at an Asian bank in Hong Kong who declined to be named in line with the lender's policy.

Macau is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, and casino operators have been struggling as Beijing's two-year-old anti-corruption drive keeps wealthy Chinese gamblers away and slowing economic growth clips demand from so-called mass market gamblers. More than 60 percent of Macau's visitors come from mainland China.

Casino operators are also facing a shortage of workers and a rising wave of labour unrest. The former Portuguese colony, home to just over 500,000 people, is racing to build eight new resorts in the next three years.

Last year, Macau made $45 billion from gambling. This year, analysts expect revenues to grow in the low single-digits at best, which would be their weakest performance on record. Other factors likely to keep gamblers away from Macau include a ban on smoking in casino floors due to be implemented this month and restrictions by the Macau authorities on China's UnionPay card, which is used to withdraw cash for gambling.

($1 = 7.9860 Macau pataca) (Additional reporting and writing by Saikat Chatterjee; Editing by Miral Fahmy)