Gaming monitor's motives queried
A new US-based website which promises to expose what it claims are 'dangerously weak' regulatory curbs on the influence of organised crime in Macau casinos has provoked an angry response from the city's gaming regulators, who accuse it of having 'questionable motives'.
Aping international online whistle-blowing organisation WikiLeaks, CasinoLeaks-Macau.com went live last month. It promises to expose links between organised crime and Macau's junket operators - the highly lucrative businesses that bring in the high-rolling gamblers who generate the bulk of revenue in the word's richest gaming destination.
The website says it spent almost a year gathering publicly available documents on the companies and individuals who own and run junket operations for the big American casino operators and their Asian competitors.
Last week it sent a 600-page dossier to US gaming regulators calling for an investigation into a specific junket operator. The website - which is backed by the International Union of Operating Engineers, a US trade union representing casino maintenance engineers - also accused the Macau authorities of 'disinterest in pursuing triad influence and involvement in the territory'.
In a letter sent with the dossier to Nevada Gaming Commission chairman Peter Bernhard and Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman Mark Lipparelli, website project leader Jeff Fiedler wrote: 'Our study, which is ongoing, reveals that the Macau regulatory regime is completely without rigour.
'In our opinion, the Macau system is dangerously weak and its acceptance as legitimate threatens to undermine the integrity of regulation in Nevada since Las Vegas casino companies are permitted to operate in both jurisdictions.'
The letter called specifically for an investigation of the Neptune Group and its affiliated organisations, which, says CasinoLeaks-Macau, have business relationships with five of the city's six casino 'concessionaires'. Calls to the Neptune Group for a response were not returned.
However, Macau's casino watchdog, the Gaming Inspection and Co- ordination Bureau, hit back at the website's claims and defended the way it regulates its gaming industry. Gaming was liberalised in 2002, ending the 40-year monopoly of tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun's STDM and allowing in the big US operators.
'We will not be responding specifically to any of the matters raised by CasinoLeaks-Macau,' a bureau spokesman said. 'It has no standing to raise issues regarding the operation of Macau's casino regulatory system, and its motives for doing so are questionable.'
The spokesman did not elaborate on what these 'questionable' motives might be, but a Macau gaming source told the Post : 'Let's just say some people might have an interest in creating problems for others who are benefiting from what has become by far the biggest money-making gaming destination in the world.'
The bureau's spokesman said the 'sociopolitical context' in which Macau liberalised its casino industry was, and remained, different to that of other jurisdictions.
'Macau had a history of almost 70 years of legal casinos, and the junket system was well entrenched during the 40-year STDM monopoly,' he said. 'This was not a 'greenfield' opening of the market, as was the case when Singapore legalised casinos in 2006, and New Jersey in 1978. It was not a laissez faire liberalisation, in the manner of Nevada; the system was, and remains, subject to government concessions.
'Casino regulation is about protecting the public interest. Unlike US jurisdictions, Macau has virtually full employment, a GDP growth rate which is perhaps the highest in the world, and all of its casino concessionaires are listed companies, in which many Macau and Hong Kong residents hold shares and thereby participate in the benefits of the industry's prosperity.
'In addition, Macau has attracted more than US$20 billion in foreign investment in the casino industry alone. In short, the public interest has been well served by the course and velocity of the casino industry's growth, which was precisely the point of the liberalisation process.'
The spokesman said that in selecting US operators, Macau had chosen the best. 'We expect they will comply with all Macau laws, and it enforces that compliance,' he said. 'What other legal compliance obligations they may have is their responsibility, not [that] of the Macau government and its agencies.'