Ongoing trial

Former Macau junket boss Alvin Chau allegedly introduced gamblers to side betting operations for years

Alvin Chau.
Reading time 3:32 min

Former Suncity Group Holdings' CEO Alvin Chau is currently under trial for more than 200 charges related to illegal gambling. On Thursday, one of the defendants alongside Chau, Cheong Chi Kin, told the Court of First Instance that Chau has introduced gamblers for years to side betting operations in casinos. 

However, Cheong declined on Thursday to unveil the details of the shareholders behind the side betting companies he managed, reasoning: "I don’t want to implicate more people."

A total of 21 defendants, including Chau and Cheong, are indicted for illicit gambling activities, involvement in a criminal syndicate, fraud, and money laundering, allegedly causing the Macau SAR government a loss of HK$8.2 billion (US$1 billion) in gaming tax revenue between March 2013 and March 2021, as well as losses for the city’s gaming operators. 

The high-profile trial began on Monday. Cheong is accused by the Macau Public Prosecutions Office as the person in charge of the under-the-table betting business for Suncity. However, Chau denied in the past days that Cheong was ever an employee of Suncity Group, and neither his firm nor he was involved in under-the-table betting. 

Meanwhile, taking the stand on Thursday, Cheong admitted he engaged in side betting, but said that he was only a junket agent that brought high rollers to Suncity VIP rooms. His companies involved in under-the-table betting were not linked to the now-defunct junket operator, he further added, as reported by Macau Business.

During the trial, Cheong acknowledged he had a meeting with the casino mogul in 2013, in which he suggested Chau minimized the size of crowds in the Suncity VIP rooms as there were "too many people" engaging in side betting in the venues.

"I asked him [Chau] if there were any gamblers interested in side betting he could refer them to me. And he said yes," he told the court, as reported by Macau Business. Asked by the prosecutor, Lai U Hou, whether this means Chau gave him permission to conduct side betting, he responded: "The entire city was doing this, so it’s not really whether he [Chau] had to give permission. He knew I was doing side betting in his [VIP rooms]."

During the trial, several phone messages dated 2020 and 2021 were presented between the two where Cheong reportedly called the junket mogul "the boss." When asked to comment he said, "I think all the Macau junket agents call him the boss'”.

Alvin Chau

Another set of documents shown in the court on Thursday also showed the administrative procedures of the companies of Cheong were assisted and attended by the accounting and human resources staff of Suncity. And in a different transcript of phone messages, it was seen that Cheong reported to Chau the monthly financial details of one of his side betting firms "New Operation." To this, he explained that when running the side betting operations, he and his subordinates had to deposit "a lot of money" in the accounts of Suncity’s VIP rooms.

Prior to Cheong taking to the stand, Chau also spoke briefly on Thursday in response to the testimony of another defendant on Wednesday, Suncity’s IT vice-president Celestino Ali, who testified the multifunctional IT system of Suncity once had data about side betting when he joined the firm in 2013. The Suncity IT team later also came up with a new operating system for Cheong, named "Opsman", in which the latter could check data about side betting. 

"I did not ask Ali Celestino to make an under-the-table operational system for Cheong Chi Kin,” the casino mogul said. "I’m not aware of any operational systems dedicated to under-the-table betting." He further added that "both the new and old multifunctional IT systems of Suncity… did not have any data about under-the-table betting,", as reported by the above-mentioned source.

Ali Celestino

Part of the hearing on Thursday also focused on the shareholding structure of the side betting companies Cheong managed, namely, "New Operation", which had a number of subdivisions, according to the documents displayed in the court, including "Main Camp", "New Little Lei", "Forever Prosperity", “Gambling Macau" and others. 

According to the official indictment, Chau is said to head 'Main Camp' to conduct under-the-table business in his VIP rooms. Cheong only revealed further that his side betting business was not only limited to Macau casinos but also casinos in Manila, the Philippines, and resorts in Genting, a Malaysia-based multinational gaming operator. 

Lou Ieng Ha, who heads a three-judge panel in charge of this high-profile trial, ruled last Friday that the criminal and civil proceedings of this case should be handled separately so that the hearing would not be delayed by the civil procedures.   

Five of the city’s six gaming operators — all except Melco Resorts and Entertainmentare complainants in the case, filing damage claims against some of the defendants, including Chau. According to the previous information provided by the court, the number of claims from the operators totaled at least HK$1.27 billion ($161.7 million) as the operators were said to lose as much as HK$2.28 billion ($290.4 million) in gaming revenue between March 2013 and March 2021.

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