n recent weeks, Macau’s gambling industry has received clear signals that tougher regulation is on its way as China’s new leadership makes a priority out of tackling corruption – a blight highlighted by the recent fall from grace of Bo Xilai, a Communist Party highflyer whose wife was found guilty of murdering a British businessman.
More than half a dozen people operating in the junket business – agents who find and ferry around highrollers, arranging credit and collecting debts – were detained at US gaming tycoon Steve Wynn’s Wynn Macau casino late last month, amid local speculation about links to the disgraced Bo. A spokeswoman for Wynn Macau declined to comment.
As Beijing tightens oversight of civil servants and keeps an ever closer watch on flamboyant luxury spending, Macau is an obvious focus. The former Portuguese enclave is the only place in China where citizens can legally bet in casinos. A cash cow for local billionaires and US tycoons such as Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, Macau’s annual revenue from gaming is expected to hit us$ 38 billion this year – six times that of Las Vegas.
“The Chinese government has requested to strengthen the governance of money flows,” said Hoffman Ma, deputy chairman of Success Universe Group, which has a joint venture with Macau kingpin Stanley Ho’s SJM Holdings to operate the Ponte 16 casino. “They don’t want to take away from Macau, they want to control it more and alert people, telling them to behave.”
Ma said some Chinese bank accounts had been frozen over suspect money transfers to Hong Kong. China imposes strict limits on how much money – us$ 50,000 – its citizens can take out of the country, making Macau a valve for hot money escaping the world’s second-largest economy.