An attack on a gambling industry figure in Macau is a stark reminder of the industry's seamy side, despite its efforts try to draw a veil over the 1990s, when such violence was rife.
Ng Man-sun, one of the longest tenured VIP junket operators in Macau, was attacked by six men wielding hammers and sticks who rushed into his own hotel as he dined with a woman just 10 days ago.
Ng, 65, also known as Ng Wai but better known by his nickname, 'Street Market Wai', in Macau and Hong Kong, has more than 20 years' experience working in the Macau gaming industry.
A woman representing Ng said she visited him on Monday and said he was 'in low spirits and didn't want to talk'.
His most severe injuries were to his legs and hands, she said. 'They hit him on the head with hammers and he covered his head with his hands. Otherwise he would be dead now,' she said.
The attack revived memories of the bad old days in the 1990s, before the arrival of big US casinos transformed the industry in Macau.
Macau legislator Au Kam-sun said Chinese criminal societies still existed in Macau, but had a much lower profile than in the 1990s. Au said the market was now big enough that normally there was no need to fight because profits had risen.
Since Las Vegas gaming tycoons, including Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, have poured billions into Macau over the past decade, its gaming revenue has soared, reaching almost US$34 billion last year, more than five times that of the Las Vegas Strip.
Ng is a gambling junket agent and VIP room operator. Junket agents bring deep-pocketed customers, mostly mainlanders, to try their luck in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.
Ng is a major shareholder in the Greek Mythology Casino operation on Taipa Island, which he holds through Hong Kong-listed casino operator Amax. Ng is the biggest single shareholder in Amax, with 24 per cent. In turn, Amax owns 24.8 per cent of Greek Mythology.
Macau authorities say the Greek Mythology casino in the New Century hotel is operating as normal.
The gaming licence for Greek Mythology belongs to Stanley Ho Hung-sun's firm, SJM, and the Macau authorities have asked Hong Kong-listed SJM to look into the matter.
SJM shares edged up 0.14 per cent to end at HK$14.30 yesterday, underperforming the Hang Seng Index which closed 1.5 per cent higher.
Greek Mythology has 'approximately 60 VIP gaming rooms, and a gaming floor targeting the mid-range to high-end market', according to Amax's annual results, issued late last month.
Amax went public in 1997 in Hong Kong, but has not found widespread favour with investors, according to Simon Lam, research director of Christfund Securities in Hong Kong.
'Their revenue is unstable so normal investors are not interested in it. Trading in the stock has been very inactive,' Lam said.
Amax closed 2.6 per cent lower yesterday at HK$0.074, after dipping as much as 9.2 per cent during the session. An Amax spokeswoman said she had no comment to make on the attack on Ng.
Macau police have not given details of any investigation, but the attack is believed to have been caused by a dispute between equity owners of the New Century Hotel - Ng and his former lover, Chen Meihuan The dispute escalated on Monday when 200 guests at the New Century Hotel found that they could not access their rooms even though they had already registered.
Although they were eventually allowed to stay in the hotel, its booking service said yesterday that no room reservations could be made 'over a recent period'.
The Macau Government Tourist Office yesterday said it had sent staff to the hotel to follow up Monday's problem, and told the South China Morning Post by e-mail that 'at present, the operation of the New Century Hotel is normal in general'.