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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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There's a bigger worry for casinos in Macao than whether the Chinese government eases visa restrictions: Some of the high-roller trade is dying -- literally. Macau Polytechnic Institute traced the fate of 99 VIP players who got into trouble with Chinese authorities. Not only were 15 facing death sentences, another seven had either killed themselves or been murdered. Two more had their death sentences commuted. And that's not counting an additional 20 in the hoosegow on lesser sentences. See what happens when you play too much Super Happy Fortune Cat?
Of course, it's easy to live the high-roller lifestyle when you're wagering with stolen money. Given that Chinese companies and governmental agencies were being sucked dry by kleptocrats with a gambling jones, Peking is understandably wont to tighten the screws on Macao. VIP-oriented operators like Melco Crown Entertainment and Wynn Resorts are most likely to feel the pinch, as we know is happening with Crown.
Ironically, for all its overreach in Macao, Las Vegas Sands made at least one sound decision when it targeted mass-market play. Too bad they proceeded to go and drink their own milkshake, as Venetian Macao sucks Sands Macao dry. (It's by now abundantly clear that it's no skin off the central government's nose if its effort to keep a close grip on where China's capital is flowing happens to throttle a few casino operators in the process.)
If Macao Chief Executive Edmund Ho (pictured) didn't have enough to worry about, a distant relative is wanted by Interpol. (Ian Sutton found the arrest warrant.) Even in American politics, the alleged misdeeds of your brother's brother-in-law might not arouse too much fuss and bother. But Chan Lin-ian and his missus are tied to the mega-scandal surrounding graft-meister Ao Man-long, who's currently doing 27 years' worth of hard time. If Sinologists are right that Peking wants to exert more direct control over Macao, this latest imbroglio would be useful leverage for pushing Edmund Ho out of office ahead of schedule, were it to suit the central government's motives.
The fine hand of Peking may be behind a newly organized and very umbrageous citizens group, Macau Residents, which has a Cotai Strip™-sized beef with Sheldon Adelson and his Las Vegas Sands.
Just for starters, the trademarking of "Cotai" (a conflation of Taipa and Coloane, Macao's two principal islands) sticks in the organizers' collective craw. Furthermore, the inevitable collision between the casino interests of Macao and Singapore has finally occurred. "We are hurt and angry that Sands Casino after making big monies from Macau had openly declared it will focus on Singapore instead of completing its unfinished works in Macau," rages the online petition. Taking as its pretext recent and massive layoffs at Sands' Macao properties, the group calls for the government to repatriate Adelson's land and casino concessions, and re-sell them to the highest bidder. (Oh, if only Gary Loveman could still borrow money!)
Macau Residents meet(s) the press, Jan. 19, 2009.
If I'm skeptical that this grassroots effort might be more like Astroturf, there are a few reasons. First, the group seems to be acting with a great deal of impunity, especially in deeply authoritarian China -- though the fine points of the Macanese/Mainland interrelationship may provide some wiggle room for those who want to take it to the streets of Macao.
Second, if the rift between Adelson and Chinese authorities is wide as has been speculated, what's the harm of ginning up an ersatz "people's revolution" to discomfit some capitalist running dogs (whose money just happens to have run out)? Perhaps you can even use it as a pretext to banish them in favor of somebody with greater solvency.
Third, the job cuts that "Macao Residents" is ostensibly protesting fell with greatest predominance upon guest workers, not Macanese citizens. Though, to be fair, a management-imposed workweek reduction hits very close to home indeed.
Fourth, the threat from Singapore is not as severe as it's made out, seeing how the government down there has acceded to yet another Adelson-style soft opening, starting with the casino of course, with the rest of Marina Bay Sands' convention-oriented features eventually limping onto the scene. (Sound familiar?) It's an embarrassing climbdown for a government that had set as one of its goals making a high-impact splash in the international convention trade, not a dribbly "plop."
So these activists could be front men for Peking or they could be a bunch of Davids taking on Goliath. Either way -- and especially if some of the more attention-getting scuttlebutt proves to be true -- Sands' Macanese empire, its attempt to create Instant Vegas -- whoops, sorry, Asia's Las Vegas™ -- is presently being picked at like a beached whale during low tide.