The House Always Wins: Money Laundering and Crime in Macau’s Casinos
Written By Diego Rubio
As a long-time factory owner, you are aware that there are certain regulations on workers’ welfare that you must abide by: very costly, unproductive regulations. Of course, such pesky restrictions are easily overlooked by your government friends for a few million yuan a year, which ends up being much more affordable and convenient. The profits you enjoy from this little arrangement are nothing short of jaw-dropping, either, and have afforded you a lifestyle worthy of European cars, American mansions, and opulence that is usually only seen on TV.
There is just one little problem: many of these luxuries are found outside of your native China, and to enjoy them you must move large amounts of money outside the country. Such a move might not be a problem in other countries, but the Chinese government will not allow you to move more than USD 50,000 worth of yuan per year outside the mainland, leaving you with a very measly amount to enjoy your billionaire lifestyle (Badkar, M.).
Luckily for you, where there is demand, there is always supply, and there’s never been a shortage of wealthy individuals looking to circumvent these monetary restrictions. With a little help from the contacts you’ve managed to establish throughout your years as an industry giant, you manage to contact a gambling promoter from Macau (or a “junket”, as they’re known around these parts), who will help sort out your little problem.
You’ve paid this junket USD 151 million worth of yuan for a deluxe vacation in Macau, the largest gambling city in the world conveniently located right outside mainland China. Private jets, 5-star hotels, and all the international delicacies you could dream of will be at your disposal for this trip, but no fleeting pleasure will be more important than the main expense of this travel package: USD 150 million worth of gambling chips. Here is where the money-laundering-fun begins.
As you enter one of Macau’s most lavish hotels, you marvel at the embroidered carpets, meticulously painted ceilings, and the overall cleanliness of a sacred temple. You glide past the check-in process with your falsified identity, then make your way to the elevator and up to your room. As you enter the hallway, however, a dramatic scene unfolds. Three rough-looking suited men are holding another man by the collar and up against a wall, uttering threats and insults that chill you to the bones. The three men notice your presence, turn to the man and command him to open his bedroom door. They then make their way inside, but not before casting a menacing look in your direction: a stark reminder of the people you are dealing with.
Junkets are known to employ triads, Chinese criminal organizations, to collect any unpaid debts to them; customer service is not these gangs’ specialty (Badkar, M.). Rumor has it that triads like the 14K or Sun Yee On still have hundreds of members who control the casino scene in Macau, and you know that as soon as you took your first step here, you were on their watchlist. You let out a profound sigh, turn towards your door and prepare yourself for bed: tomorrow, the real action begins.
Gambling is far from an exact science; however much luck, experience, or dexterity you may boast of, there is always a margin for error. That’s alright: as long as you don’t do terribly, you can interpret any money you lose today as a commission for the casino’s trouble. After all, had you not chosen this plan of action, you would’ve lost out on a whole lot more money. You make your way into your junket’s casino, convert USD 150 million worth of yuan into casino chips, and start gambling away.
The evening zooms by in a flurry of sound and color: chips clanking together, frustrated grunts, ecstatic cheers, and an endless amount of cocktails clinking together create a vivid atmosphere that makes you forget all your troubles. After a long day of betting, however, you’ve used your chips on several occasions and are now allowed to cash in. You take your chips to be converted and are promptly asked what form of currency you would prefer. Of course, you ask that all of them be converted to US dollars, which can easily be used offshore.
Congratulations! You have circumvented one of the world’s toughest currency transportation restrictions and can use all your hard-earned cash for profitable ventures or a pleasant lifestyle. No amount of government control has succeeded in keeping you at bay, and the severely malfunctioning moral compass that rules Macau’s casinos has given you a golden gate through which to carry all your dirty corruption money.
It’s a cruel world out there: one where crime, deceit, and trickery all come together to create a monstrous system of money laundering. There is no justice for the corrupt in such a world, but it goes to show that when the chips are down and if you are wealthy and influential enough, you will always have one more ace up your sleeve.
Badkar, M. (2013, November 11). How China’s Filthy Rich Use Macau To Launder Their Money. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-people-use-macau-to-launder-money-2013-11?r=MX&IR=T
K. (2019, July 31). Is Macau doing enough to combat money laundering? Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.kapronasia.com/asia-banking-research-category/is-macau-doing-enough-to-combat-money-laundering.html
E. (2020, May 07). Money Laundering: A How To Guide For The Modern Global Billionaire. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmEvAk5LRko&t=684s