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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Macau casino-related crime rises as gambling profits tumble

Macau casino-related crime rises as gambling profits tumble

Casino-linked offences surge as graft crackdown bites into profits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 May, 2015

Forced collection of debts, arson and document forgery crimes are all on the increase in the former Portuguese enclave. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Forced collection of debts, arson and document forgery crimes are all on the increase in the former Portuguese enclave. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Macau has been hit by a sharp rise in casino-linked crime as gaming revenues nosedive amid Beijing's drive to clean up the world's biggest gambling hub, putting the cash-squeeze on its notorious criminal underbelly.

Security chiefs in the former Portuguese enclave say the number of illegal detentions - the bulk of which involve forced collection of gaming debts by triads - almost doubled to 67 in the first three months of this year, from 37 in the same period last year.

There has also been a surge in the number of arson attacks, document forgery cases and what the authorities describe as "crimes jeopardising the territory". The crime spike comes ahead of next week's opening of two new gaming and leisure developments at Galaxy Entertainment's Galaxy Macau on the Cotai Strip.

It suggests the graft crackdown launched last year is having a deep effect on the city as its gaming-dominated economy strives to meet demands from President Xi Jinping and senior mainland officials to put its gambling house in order in the interests of the nation.

It also follows the publication of an academic study by veteran Hong Kong-based Macau analyst Professor Sonny Lo Shiu-hing, who argues that "geopolitical concerns" are the prime motivating factor behind Beijing's push for a more diverse economy and a better regulated casino sector, both of which it sees as long-term bulwarks against "the deep penetration of Western capital and influence" in Macau.

Releasing the figures this week, Macau's secretary for security, Wong Sio-chak, insisted the gaming hub's security situation was stable, adding that the growth in illegal detentions and loan sharking "still does not provide enough evidence that the current adjustment in the gaming industry has affected Macau's social public security".

A casino industry source said the surge in illegal detentions and loan sharking indicated that "criminal enterprises" were scrambling to make up for losses resulting from a mini-meltdown of controversial VIP junket operators, who bring in many of the high-rollers who are the focus of Beijing's clean-up campaign.

"Business is business for these guys, and if they can't get their pound of flesh one way, they'll get it another way," the source said.

In a paper written jointly with fellow academic Dennis Hui Lai-hang, Hong Kong Institute of Education Professor Lo - who has been monitoring Macau since the early 1990s - says: "Beijing does not want to witness any proliferation, much less monopolisation, of foreign investment in Macau's casino industry ... China's geopolitical concerns of deep penetration of western capital in Macau's casinos make a brake on the growth of casinos perfectly understandable."

On Thursday, Sociedade de Jogos de Macau CEO Ambrose So Shu-fai said VIP business was down 30 to 40 per cent in the past few months. He could not say whether it had hit the bottom.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Crime rises as gaming revenues fall

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