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

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs