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Macau Casino Mogul to Await Trial on Charges He Ran Illegal Gambling Business in China

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: November 30, 2021
Macau Casino gambling
The main entrance of Casino Lisboa closes on February 5, 2020 in Macau, China. Macau government announced it will close casinos for two weeks after a hotel worker was infected. Macau has 10 confirmed cases of Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), with over 20,000 confirmed cases around the world; the virus has so far claimed over 400 lives. (Image: Anthony Kwan via Getty Images)

Macau’s most well-known casino junket magnate Alvin Chau Cheok-wa is currently being held in a county jail after being arrested for illegal cross-border gambling and money-laundering activities.

The 47-year-old is the founder and CEO of Suncity Group, a Hong Kong-based company that operates VIP gambling rooms across Asia. Junket operators act as promoters who bring high rollers into the casino, extending them handsome credit lines and collecting on debts. 

Macau police said they apprehended Chau after Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for the junket mogul, accusing him of running illegal gambling activities within its borders. Casino gambling remains illegal in mainland China and offenders face serious penalties or even jail time if caught. Macau, a former Portuguese colony returned to Chinese rule in 1999, is not subject to the same law.

The Macau judiciary police released in a statement on Nov. 27 that Chau had been detained based on evidence compiled from a two-year investigation, coupled with the arrest warrant issued from mainland China. It also stated that Chau’s company Suncity had been tied to drug trafficking and money laundering activities for years. 

Alvin Chau, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Suncity Group Holdings Ltd., stands for a photograph after an interview during the Macau Gaming Show (MGS) at the Venetian Hotel in Macau, China, on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Image: David Paul Morris via Bloomberg)

According to the prosecutor’s office, Chau was also accused of operating a large-scale betting platform in the Philippines. The system featured live video feeds of casino games and allowed gamblers to place large bets online. 

“The group used bank accounts of companies in Macau to funnel illicit funds through underground banks,” the prosecutor’s statement read, adding that the alleged crimes would create serious impacts on the autonomous region’s lawful gaming sectors and financial order.

Although only a third of the size of Las Vegas, Macau is the largest gambling hub in the world, featuring over 40 casinos and receiving approximately 30 million visitors per year. 

According to Chinese authorities, police in the city of Wenzhou said on Nov. 26 that upon investigating Chau’s activities, it was revealed that the casino magnate had formed an illegal junket network in the mainland. The operation was enabling mainland residents to engage in offshore and cross-border gambling activities. 

The Wenzhou City Public Security Bureau said on its Weibo account that Chau had set up an asset management company to help gamblers disguise the source of winnings and facilitated cross-border fund transfers. 

The bureau also added that as of July, 2020, Chau’s criminal operations had almost 200 shareholder-level representatives and over 12,000 gambling agents working for him in China.

“The amount of money involved was exceptionally large, seriously damaging our country’s social management order,” Wenzhou authorities said, claiming that over 80,000 Chinese gamblers were involved in Chau’s online gambling platform. 

Chau was apprehended along with 10 others, with Macau police claiming the members were part of a syndicate involved in: offering illegal gambling, money laundering, leading a criminal operation and being a member of a criminal group. Six members were released on bail but are prohibited from leaving Macau and must report regularly to authorities. 

Macau authorities said: “​​to prevent the relevant suspects from absconding, the criminal court accepted the prosecutor’s recommendation and imposed compulsory detention against Chau and the other four suspects.”

In Macau, being the leader of a criminal syndicate carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison, while being a member of a criminal gang is punishable by up to 10 years. Money laundering carries a maximum sentence of eight years and offering illegal gambling is punishable by up to three. 

Reuters reported that neither representatives for Chau or Suncity Group responded to email inquiries.