Casino to be rebuked after teen hits jackpot

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2007, 12:00am
 

Under-age girl and family try to claim HK$740,000, but Sands refuses to pay


The Sands Macau casino will be admonished but not punished for 'committing a serious mistake' in allowing an under-age Hong Kong girl, who hit a jackpot, to play slot machines.


Macau's gaming inspector yesterday said the casino would be censured. The girl and her family, meanwhile, are trying to claim the HK$740,000 jackpot which the casino is refusing to pay after learning the 16-year-old winner's age.


Macau laws forbid anyone under 18 to enter casinos.


Manuel Joaquim das Neves, director of the Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau, said the law did not spell out how a casino should be punished for allowing under-age people to gamble.


'Sands has committed a serious mistake letting in under-age people,' said Mr das Neves. 'But we are also taking into consideration that too many people visit the casino during the Lunar New Year.'


He said the bureau would give a 'severe admonition' to Sands and urge it to tighten up its age checks.


New gaming laws would be drafted later this year to include detailed punishments for letting in under-age punters, Mr das Neves said. 'The case is the first of its kind in decades,' said the gaming inspector, who has worked in the bureau since 1985.


However, it would be unrealistic to require ID card checks on every casino patron because of the large size of the gambling crowd, he said.


The bureau is examining the case to decide whether Sands should pay the jackpot prize. Its legal experts are looking into the civil contract between the casino and its customers, and examining whether the girl acted in a deceptive way to look older and gain entry to the casino.


The girl was playing at Sands with her mother and grandmother on Tuesday when, after putting HK$100 into a slot machine, it stopped on the grand prize-winning numbers.


Casino workers rushed up to congratulate her, but showed her to the door after they asked for her ID card and discovered that she was under age.


The family, determined to claim the prize, is expected to meet Mr das Neves soon. A Sands spokesman said the casino was still investigating the incident.


The girl was reported to also have visited Sands early last year when she was only 15.


Legislator Jose Coutinho said the city's casinos had apparently relaxed their age checks due to fierce competition.


'They used to be quite strict on age during the gaming monopoly,' he said. 'But there have been signs of loosening up after the issuance of more gaming licences.'


Las Vegas Sands Corp opened its first Macau casino in 2004, ending a 40-year-old gaming monopoly and spearheading a casino boom in the former Portuguese enclave.


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