Ethics on the cards? Macau gaming industry considering code to boost image and revenue

Junket operators in talks with local officials to boost image and fortunes as former Portuguese enclave keeps reeling from anti-corruption drive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 4:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 4:05am

The cut-throat world of Macau casino junkets is probably the last place one would look for ethical business practices, but with the industry struggling, unexpected things are happening.

As they face an adapt-or-die challenge amid plans for tougher regulation and feel the effects of Beijing's anti-corruption crackdown, junket operators in the former Portuguese enclave are in talks with the Macau government relating to the possible introduction of a code of ethics, the Sunday Morning Post has learned.

A source familiar with the gaming industry said: "There is a kind of revolution and junkets are reorganising themselves. They know that that they need to change their image, because there is currently a great deal of distrust around the sector."

The source said diminished fortunes are forcing junket operators "to reflect internally and come up with solutions".

Their main role is to recruit high rollers to casinos and give them credit to play. As of January this year, there were 183 licensed gaming promoters in Macau.

Concerns about a sector once linked to organised crime were revived in early September by a theft involving Dore Holdings, one of Macau's biggest junket operators. The loss was said to total more than HK$400 million.

The president of the Association of Gaming and Entertainment Promoters of Macau, Kwok Chi-chung, who attended the meetings - some with the secretary for economy and finance and others with representatives of the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau - said there were still no concrete details about a code of ethics. "We are waiting for the government to set up the next meeting," he said.

During the meetings, gaming promoters pushed for a say on changes to the current law. The Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau announced in September it would revise the rules for issuing licences to junket operators "as soon as possible".

The government's intention is to publicly disclose more information, such as the names of junkets' administrators, shareholders, so-called key employees and collaborators. At present, only shareholders and administrators are subject to a "suitability check" by the bureau, and little is known about the junkets' intricate internal structures.

"We hope to join in the writing of the law to tell the government about the junkets' difficulties, so the law can also let the junkets develop in a healthy way," Kwok said, acknowledging that there was a need to improve the sector's image.

"It's good that the government is tightening up the rules because hopefully it will lessen the public's misunderstandings and will make the system more transparent," he added.

Carlos Siu Lam, an associate professor with the Gaming Teaching and Research Centre at Macau Polytechnic Institute who studies junkets in Macau, said the issue should be addressed with care because Macau's gaming revenue heavily relies on VIPs.

"We need to be prudent in our approach as the strict application of rules to the business or the direct implementation of rules from other gaming jurisdictions may not only work unsatisfactorily but [could] also create some additional problems for the weakening industry," he said.

Additional reporting by Gloria Chan