Macau ex-junket boss Alvin Chau has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was found guilty of charges including illicit gambling, criminal association and fraud. Chau’s downfall, which comes after weeks of trial and months of decline for the once prosperous junket sector, marks the end of the gambling hub’s VIP sector.
A Macau court ordered on Wednesday that Chau, together with a handful of other individuals involved in the case, must pay around HK$6.5 billion ($830 million) to the city’s government, and more than HK$2.1 billion in compensation to a number of the city’s casino operators, reports Bloomberg.
The former chairman of Suncity Group – once Macau’s largest junket operator – was a key figure in the lucrative VIP gambling industry, which brought in high rollers from mainland China and extended credit to them. His downfall began in November 2021, the date on which he was arrested for conducting illegal gaming activities.
The focus of the authorities’ investigation was placed on an “under-the-table” betting system through which gamblers wagered multiples of what they officially bet via a shadow banking system established by Chau’s group, further reports Bloomberg. Prosecutors also said they believed the defendants had set up gambling platforms outside Macau and lured mainland punters into betting illegally online, as per South China Morning Post.
Alvin Chau's arrest in 2021
Since 2013, Chau and his group are believed to have handled almost HK$824 billion through their parallel gambling scheme, making an illegal profit of HK$21.5 billion, according to prosecutors in the case. This resulted in an HK$8.26 billion loss in tax revenue for the Macau government.
The 48-year-old, who was sentenced for more than 100 charges, has denied the charges. The court ruled in favor of the prosecutors for most of the charges, but acquitted Chau of money laundering, according to BBC. The high-profile case also involves 20 other defendants.
The rise and fall of Chau followed Beijing’s tightening grip on what was once the world’s biggest gambling hub. After decades of helping China’s richest funnel money overseas, junkets began facing a crackdown over the last few years, as authorities arrested junket bosses and passed a new gaming law to increase oversight on casinos in an effort to stop capital flight.
While Suncity shut all of its VIP rooms after Chau’s arrest in late 2021, the number of junkets in Macau had already been on constant decline by that time. There are now only 36 approved junket operators left, down from 100 in pre-pandemic 2019, according to official figures.
In addition to a VIP gambling crackdown, Macau’s casino industry has also been hammered by strict Covid rules that have kept many Chinese visitors away. Tourists are only recently returning after China relaxed its strict “Covid Zero” policy and opened up in the last few weeks.