Online Gambling Accusations

Suncity Macau Junket Operation Under Duress Amid Online Gambling Accusations

There’s again a sense of unease in the junketeering world through which affluent Chinese gamblers have been able to gamble it up in Macau and elsewhere. Following a week in which an official Chinese news outlet published a report accusing Macau’s largest junketeer, Suncity, of also helping its Chinese patrons illegally gamble billions of dollars online, an uneasy truce seems to be have been reached between Chinese authorities and the well-connected Suncity operation.

A gambling uproar was guaranteed to ensue following the publication a week ago of a report by Economic Information Daily, an affiliate of China’s state-operated Xinhua News Agency, reported on the scope of Suncity’s allegedly illegal activities.

According to Reuters, which picked up the initial report, “Suncity enabled Chinese players to bet through online casinos in the Philippines and Cambodia and utilized underground banks to move capital out of the country.

“The annual amount bet through online gambling in the mainland is more than one trillion yuan ($145 billion), equivalent to nearly twice the annual income of China’s lottery,” Reuters quoted the EID report as saying, while also noting that it was the first time a major junketeer such as Suncity, which operates VIP rooms in numerous casinos, had been linked directly to underground gambling.

What appeared to be a crackdown in progress targeting Suncity also had to be evaluated within the larger framework of China’s wider crackdown against many underground gambling channels over the past several years. The Chinese junket industry has long been linked to organized crime, and Macau’s gambling revenue declined for several years earlier this decade as Chinese authorities weeded out many of the most notorious junketeers.

SunCity, though, was somewhat better regarded — at least publicly — than many other junket operations, and its reaction to the state-authored report about its alleged online-gambling connections led to immediate and vehement denials and also to threats to sue, claiming the reports were false and “based on hearsay” evidence.

Then some high-level discussions took place, amid what has always appeared as a longstanding framework of the widespread Chinese government corruption that allowed the junketeering industry to thrive to begin with. According to a South China Morning Post update, “The report prompted the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) to hold two meetings with representatives of Macau’s six local gaming operators and junket operator associations, warning them not to run online and phone gambling business.”

And, in no coincidence whatsoever, Suncity backed off its threats to sue, while still maintaining its innocence. Instead, Suncity issued a brief follow-up statement in which it promised to adhere to Macau law no matter where its business operations were taking place.

Suncity Group Chairman Alvin Chau Cheok Wa said on Saturday that he wasn’t wanted by China or Macau authorities, and  that he was “deeply sorry for all the inconvenience caused”. Chau added, “For any products that are legally allowed to operate in other countries and regions, the company will not adopt them if the laws of Macau do not allow it and [we] will strictly adhere to the laws of Macau,” he said.

Chau also said, “We are a Macau entity, a Macau enterprise, and as a China Macau Special Administrative Region citizen, my career is in Macau, my home is in Macau, my roots are in Macau, and my heart faces the motherland.” As appeasement-based quotes go, that’s right up there.

Chau and Suncity apparently have walked right up to the brink of what Chinese authorities are willing to tolerate, no matter how much money is being spread around behind the scenes. The greater truth, of course, is that whether the existing junketeers are successfully reigned in, the underground online gambling will continue virtually unabated, just through somewhat different channels.

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