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Macau Junket King Alvin Chau Gets 18 Years For Casino Crimes

Local court finds Suncity casino executive guilty of running a vast criminal syndicate, enabling illegal gambling, fraud and a notorious ‘under-the-table’ gambling scam


The UNODC alleges that Alvin Chau was a billionaire linked to drug running and money laundering for years. Colleagues in the online gambling world are now said to be focusing on SEZs in parts of Southeast Asia where law enforcement is weak. File photo: AFP.

 

A Macau court has sentenced Alvin Chau – a top casino boss – to 18 years in jail after he was found guilty on Wednesday of illegal gaming, criminal association, fraud and money laundering.

Chau was chairman of Macau’s Suncity junket operator, which brokered the gambling activity of Chinese high rollers, until shortly after he was arrested in November 2021.

The ‘junket king’, believed to be a billionaire, was found guilty of 162 charges, while 20 other people were also convicted of illegal gaming, criminal association, fraud and money laundering.

Prosecutors accused Suncity of using an ‘under-the-table’ betting system via shadow banks that enabled high rollers to gamble multiples of what they officially bet and greatly reduce the casino tax they had to pay.

Chau’s syndicate was said to made billions from the parallel gambling set-up from 2013 to 2021 and accused of cheating the Macau government out of $1.05 billion in revenue during that period, according to GGR Asia, a local media outlet.

Other casino operators – Wynn Macau, MGM China Holdings, SJM Holdings, Sands China, and Galaxy Entertainment Group – had separately sought civil damages for losses allegedly arising from Suncity’s under-the-table betting system, it reported.

The jail sentence marked a dramatic turnaround for the casino tycoon, who once presided over the gambling hub’s VIP industry.

Chau denied all wrongdoing during his two-month trial, which was watched closely by many in the former Portuguese colony, where he had celebrity-like status.

Chau must pay the Macau government more than HK$6.5 billion ($830.7 million) as well as HK$178 million to HK$770 million to casino operators MGM China, Wynn Macau, Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment AND SJM Holdings, TDM said.

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Macau is the only city in China where citizens are permitted to gamble in casinos. Tax revenues from its casinos account for more than 80% of government income.

Junket operators help facilitate gambling for wealthy Chinese in Macau, extending them credit and collecting on their debt on behalf of casino operators. Marketing or soliciting gambling in mainland China is illegal.

Chau’s lawyers had argued that he did not operate any illegal gambling or commit money laundering and that his business in the Philippines was permitted by local authorities there. No one from Suncity Group had promoted gambling on the mainland, his lawyers said.

But officials from Wenzhou city said that as of July 2020, the “crime syndicate” led by Chau had 199 shareholder-level agents, more than 12,000 gambling agents and over 80,000 punter members.

“The amount of money involved was exceptionally large, seriously damaging our country’s social management order,” the security bureau said.

 

‘Ties to gambling, drugs across Southeast Asia’

Meanwhile, Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok, said in 2021 that Chau’s arrest sent shockwaves through organised crime in Hong Kong, Macau, as well as Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines.

Douglas said Suncity had been linked to major drug traffickers and money laundering for many years.

Chau had grown Suncity from operating a high-roller table in Wynn Macau’s casino in 2007 to a sprawling conglomerate with thousands of employees and businesses ranging from property to autos.

In 2019, Suncity was singled out by Chinese state media, which said online gambling was causing great harm to China’s social economic order. Suncity claimed it did not operate any online gaming at the time.

Chau’s Suncity was a major player in Macau before prior the coronavirus outbreak, accounting for about 25% of total gaming revenues, industry executives said.

That year, Macau casinos generated $36 billion in revenue.

But the casino sector slumped in Macau after Chau’s arrest, with all of Suncity’s VIP rooms shuttered. Many other operators folded, hurt by poor sentiment and lack of business due to Covid travel restrictions.

Macau’s government still permits junkets to operate but they face far more scrutiny after new legislation approved in December last year which regulates their licensing and activities.

Junkets are now only allowed to partner with a single casino; before they could work with as many as they wanted with little oversight.

Recently, Douglas, from UNODC, said there were signs of China’s gambling syndicates focusing their attention on ‘softer targets’ in Southeast Asia, such as Special Economic Zones in northern Laos and Myanmar, plus notorious hotspots such as Shwe Kokko on the Thai-Myanmar border and Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia.

And countries like Thailand and Singapore are considering opening or extending legal casino operations.

 

  •  Jim Pollard with Reuters

 

NOTE: Further details were added and the headline and subhead on this report amended on January 18, 2023.

 

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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