News / Asia

Gamblers Not So Anonymous: Beijing Keeps Closer Eye on Macau

FILE - Li Gang, deputy director of the central Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong, May 24, 2010.
FILE - Li Gang, deputy director of the central Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong, May 24, 2010.
Reuters
With little fanfare, China is sending an official with a 'tough cop' reputation to be its top man in Macau, the world's biggest gambling hub, as Beijing puts tackling corruption center stage.

Li Gang, a veteran of handling contentious issues in Hong Kong, is slated to this year take control of China's liaison office in the former Portuguese colony - which like Hong Kong is a special administrative region under China's 'one country, two systems' principle.

The office, China's representative in Macau, has deepened its ties with casino and junket operators, who helped bring in over two-thirds of Macau's $38 billion in revenues last year.

The low-key but significant moves signal a deliberate attempt by China to be more directly involved in the oversight of Macau, which has drawn unwanted attention with reports of mainland officials laundering state funds and betting millions in the casinos' high-roller VIP rooms.

Rather than signaling a crackdown on Macau's lucrative gambling industry, casino executives say the target is those Chinese officials using public money or pledging state assets to gamble - money that could otherwise be invested in businesses.

For example, Yang Kun, a vice president at Agricultural Bank of China, owed Macau casinos three billion yuan ($490 million) in gambling debts, while local media have reported former high-flying politician Bo Xilai laundered money through Macau. There has been no official ruling on either case.

"They are taking a much more proactive role. The Chinese government is more concerned about assets being wasted," said a senior executive at a Macau casino, who didn't want to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation. "For them, it's not about the funds being gambled, but about businesses or factories being squandered."

Closer Scrutiny

China has revamped its anti-money laundering rules, Reuters reported this month, and Macau is overhauling its laws to set more explicit requirements to detect suspicious transactions. Francis Tam, Secretary for Economy and Finance, has said there will be stricter oversight of the gaming industry, with the government paying closer attention to abnormal capital flows.

Suspicious transaction reports in Macau rose by almost a fifth last year to 1,840, and more than 70 percent of those were related to the gaming industry, according to Macau's Financial Intelligence Office.

Li, who sits on the Chinese Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, was appointed deputy director of the Macau liaison office in December, and political analysts expect him to be China's main representative later this year when the current chief is due to retire.

Having won plaudits for his firm handling of elections and electoral reform in Hong Kong as deputy director, Li has been quoted by local media as saying anti-corruption efforts are in line with a broader effort - and one of new Chinese President Xi Jinping's priorities - to tackle graft and the illicit outflow of funds, rather than a crackdown on Macau's gaming industry.

More Involved

Located on the tip of China's southern coast, Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal, and more than two-thirds of its visitors come from the mainland. Each month, gaming rakes in more than half of Las Vegas' annual revenue of $6.2 billion.

"China's government is always focusing and concentrating on Macau's development," said a representative of the liaison office - which works from a recently renovated building that towers above the gaudy casinos and ubiquitous pawn shops - in response to a question on whether the government was increasing its attention on Macau.

After the release of notorious mobster Wan "Broken Tooth" Kuok-koi in December, representatives from the liaison office informed casino operators that if they faced any trouble they should go directly to them. Under Portuguese control, VIP junket operators like Wan tended to take matters into their own hands, resulting in frequent and bloody violence in the 1990s.

Macau junkets are companies or individuals authorized to issue credit to gamblers and settle any subsequent debts. The biggest junket firms run multi-billion-dollar operations. Alvin Chau, founder of one of the leading operators Suncity Group, was this year selected as a member of China's CPPCC Guangdong provincial committee, elevating his political credentials.

Macau's first Junket Association was created on the eve of "Broken Tooth's" release, with operators, liaison office representatives and local regulators attending a lavish dinner at Las Vegas Sands Corp's new resort. Photos and videos of the dinner posted online show junket operators taking oaths, raising their right hand and reading from a small piece of white paper in the other.

"The association will strive to work together to keep society stable and the economy flourishing and transform Macau into an international city," the Apple Daily quoted the association's president Guo Zhizhong as saying.

Deborah Ng, director of Macau's Financial Intelligence Office, has said that casino operators have adequate controls in place to detect if government officials or high-ranking politicians are gambling.

"I think there's improvement. I can't say what we have done now will totally prevent the risk, but actually we can see that things are improving," Ng said.

You May Like

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More