A senior official from Saipan’s gaming regulatory body has played down the significance of a news report suggesting a Chinese investor-backed casino it has licensed there was under U.S. federal investigation regarding the source of its gambling income.
Edward Deleon Guerrero, executive director of the Commonwealth Casino Commission, was quoted by the Saipan Tribune newspaper as saying if such inquiries were taking place, they were likely to be routine.
On November 14, Bloomberg News had reported that the volumes of cash wagered at Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd’s current temporary Saipan casino (pictured) were “drawing the attention of law-enforcement officials” in the United States.
Imperial Pacific has the right to an exclusive casino licence on Saipan, a Pacific island that is the main land mass of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. jurisdiction. The firm is presently building a permanent facility to replace the current one.
Bloomberg said – citing sources it didn’t identify by name – that the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – known as FinCEN – had been taking an interest in the casino, which is run by Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific’s unit Best Sunshine International Ltd.
“It is an irrelevant issue if FinCEN is doing an investigation but you don’t need to be alarmed if you are complying,” local regulator Mr Deleon Guerrero was quoted by the Saipan Tribune as saying, referring to U.S. laws and regulations.
The regulator was further quoted saying the casino complies with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act.
That statute requires – among other things – that casinos identify higher-risk banking operations and ensure compliance with anti-money laundering protocols.
On November 2, Imperial Pacific had announced that its unaudited VIP table games rolling turnover for October 2016 was US$3.84 billion, with similar strong performance in previous months.
The Macau regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, doesn’t issue VIP rolling chip turnover data for its casinos. But the Bloomberg story had quoted three unidentified VIP gambling promoters in Macau – a city that currently has 36 operational casinos, according to the gaming bureau – suggesting that the Saipan chip turnover numbers were impossible if they were not inflated or facilitating money laundering.
Imperial Pacific has strenuously denied that claim and said in a Hong Kong filing on November 15 that it was seeking legal advice and reserved the right to pursue legal action against an “unfounded report”.
Shen Yan, president of global capital markets at Imperial Pacific, subsequently told GGRAsia in a telephone interview that it was “impossible” for its casino operation to be facilitating capital flight from China.
In Macau – where VIP gambling currently accounts for approximately half of casino gross gaming revenue (GGR), a separate measure of industry performance – the city’s October GGR totalled the equivalent of US$2.73 billion.
But Saipan regulator Mr Deleon Guerrero indicated to the Saipan Tribune that the unattributed comments of Macau junket people regarding Imperial Pacific’s casino might be a case of bad-mouthing by commercial rivals.
“If… a temporary casino inside a mall can outpace and outperform big-name casinos [it is] is purely business [to downplay the fact]. It is bad for competitors and it appears it’s business rivalry, since Saipan is a competitor. I can tell you the numbers are real. We are watching, documenting and tracking it,” the Saipan regulator’s executive director added.
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DS Kim, Jeremy An and Christine Wang
Analysts at brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd