Macau casino operators’ shares plummeted Monday morning after police said the chief of the gambling enclave’s largest junk operator confessed to engaging in illegal betting overseas.
Alvin Chau, the head of Suncity Group, was arrested for questioning over the weekend after mainland authorities announced they had issued an arrest warrant against him.
Macau police said their investigation was separate from that of the mainland and was the culmination of their own two-year investigation into the group’s activities.
It is the first time such a high-profile person in the Macau gambling industry has been arrested in an ongoing crackdown on the sector, with plans to tighten government regulation announced in September.
Suncity, which makes up around 40 percent of the mostly mainland Chinese high rollers who flock to Macau, ceased trading its shares on Monday, according to a statement filed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Macau’s big six casino operators also saw their share prices plummet in morning trading, with Wynn down 10 percent, SJM, Sands and MGM down more than 7 percent, Melco down more than 6 percent and Galaxy down 5 percent.
Almost all gambling is banned in mainland China, but it is allowed in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that has a casino industry bigger than Las Vegas.
The vast majority of gamblers are mainland gamblers, and junket operators like Suncity are bringing high rollers to Macau for legal gambling.
But the Macau police have accused Chau and ten others of setting up an illegal cross-border gambling and money laundering syndicate that enabled mainlanders to place bets online.
Evidence presented at Sunday’s press conference included $ 385,000 in cash and confiscated computer hard drives.
The prosecutor in the mainland city of Wenzhou has opened a separate investigation into which Chau is accused of running an illegal gambling syndicate and “severely damaging the social order of the country.”
Suncity has not yet commented on the arrests. Junket operators’ licenses in Macau are renewed annually and Suncity’s are due in January.
President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has resulted in increased scrutiny of high rollers and corrupt officials who may travel to Macau to both place bets and launder money.
The city had tried to become less dependent on the casino industry even before the coronavirus wiped out gambling and tourism for much of 2020.
While the numbers have picked up this year, they remain well below pre-pandemic levels.
In September officials announced plans to appoint government officials to the boards of licensed operators to oversee their operations and criminalize underground banking in the industry, causing casino operators’ share prices to plummet.
The six major casino operators will all have to offer their casino licenses again after they expire in June 2022.
jta / oho