HK gamblers losing billions in Macau's VIP rooms
A confidential report commissioned by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to assess the impact of VIP gambling junkets to Macau has estimated that between 4,000 and 8,000 Hongkongers make 10 to 25 such trips to the city each year.
The report, by US consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group, estimates that Hong Kong people lost about HK$13.5 billion in Macau's private VIP gambling rooms in 2007.
Macau's VIP junketing boom in recent years has meant negative fallout for Hong Kong in areas such as gambling addiction, loanshark activities and the growth of organised crime locally and, more significant, on the mainland.
'At the minimum there is a relationship between the junkets and triads related to moving money and the collection of gaming debts,' the report says.
'The lack of an effective legal process for recovering gaming debt in China has led to an extrajudicial system where debt is collected via intimidation, threats, disruption of business, kidnapping of family members and other strong-arm tactics,' it says.
A copy of the 52-page report - commissioned by the Jockey Club to highlight the growing threat of competition from Macau and completed by Spectrum in April last year - was recently acquired by the South China Morning Post.
'We did commission a confidential report last year on casino junkets to assess their impact on the Hong Kong community,' said a spokesman for the Jockey Club, who declined to confirm whether the document in question was the Spectrum report.
'We do commission and conduct various gaming-related researches from time to time, and share key findings with the relevant government authorities.'
A Bangkok-based director at Spectrum's Asia unit said: 'We never comment on specific assignments.'
The Jockey Club, which monopolises local betting on horse racing, soccer and the Mark Six lottery, has in recent years expressed growing unease at the explosion of casino gaming in Macau.
The Spectrum report refers to this: 'The trend of casinos and horse racing competing against each other has not boded well for the horse-racing industry over the years in the United States, Canada and Australia.'
In many US states, horse racecourses have been transformed into 'racinos' via the introduction of slot machines or similar electronic gambling machines in an effort to compete with the growth of nearby casino-style gaming.
The Jockey Club is unlikely to offer slot machines. Instead, the Spectrum report is believed to have been circulated among members of government and the Home Affairs Bureau's Betting and Lotteries Commission in advance of last week's public consultation on adding five more race meetings to Hong Kong's annual horse-racing calendar.
The Spectrum report cites data from a Home Affairs Bureau survey estimating that about 80 per cent of Hong Kong people engaged in some form of gambling.
In its description of junket operators in Macau, the report refers to a number of publicly listed Hong Kong companies, including Dore Holdings, A-Max Holdings, Neptune Group and Golden Resorts.
However, the report goes on to say that its descriptions of illegal practices during junkets are 'not otherwise intended to suggest, infer or imply that all junket operators or their employees or agents engage or participate in such activities'.