Crass casino cruise ship bosses who bleat about storm season losses should save tears for real victims – and Hong Kong taxman
City operators of lucrative gambling sessions at sea claim recent storms have left them counting the cost, but considering the billions they rake in just beyond the reach of Hong Kong gaming and tax laws, it’s hard to feel their pain
In recent weeks tens of millions of people around the world have been killed, injured, displaced or dispossessed by storms and floods so extreme as to give – you would think – even the most strident climate change denier pause for thought.
From Hong Kong to Havana and all points in between, communities have been literally torn apart as swollen seas whipped up by unprecedented winds destroyed the lives of those who – in the main – were already poor.
The carnage is magnified by shockingly lax disaster planning and underfunded emergency response strategies in a world which appears, increasingly, to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
In Macau, which as a result of the gambling dollar boasts one of the highest per capita gross domestic products on the planet, 10 people lost their lives when Typhoon Hato ripped through the city leaving in its wake a close-to-home example of this price-value principle in action.
With this in mind, it was with an overwhelming sense of disbelief and incredulity that I read the post-storm reflections of Kent Zhu Fuming, the president of Genting Cruise Lines which operates Dream Cruises and Star Cruises ships from Hong Kong.
When I say cruise ships – what I really mean is floating casinos – the vessels which navigate their way around Hong Kong law by sailing into waters just beyond legal – and tax levying – reach.
Apparently, Zhu was fuming over the millions of dollars lost due to the cancellation and rerouting of cruises as a result of typhoons and storms.
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“Don’t ask me about typhoons. I haven’t rested for the past four weeks,” an exasperated Zhu told this newspaper late last month as the dead of Macau and elsewhere were still being mourned.
“Usually we lose 20 per cent of our customers when we change a ship’s itinerary,” he added with all the sensitivity and presence of mind it must require to take the helm of a cruise line company.
The comments – which presumably did not mean that Zhu believes his floating casinos should be allowed to sail come rain, hail or hurricane – take on an even more unsavoury note when you consider that such weather events are almost certainly factored into the company’s business plan.
Not only that. According to an authoritative internal briefing report last year into the business of Hong Kong’s casino ships for a major public body in the city, lucrative doesn’t even begin to describe the amounts of money being earned in his line of work.
The report estimates that the total annual revenue of all casino cruise ships operating out of Hong Kong waters in 2014 was about HK$2.2 billion, based on an analysis of the financial statements of one casino cruise ship business and a subsequent extrapolation exercise.
These casino cruise ship operators pay no betting duties to the Hong Kong government, or any government for that matter, despite deriving a majority of their revenue from gambling operations and regularly sailing from Hong Kong waters, the report says.
“If they were to pay comparable betting duties in Hong Kong, it is estimated that the industry as a whole would pay HK$984 million in potential betting duties,” it concludes.
Forgive us if we don’t feel your pain, Mr Zhu.