An executive of Pacific island casino operator Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd told GGRAsia it is “not possible” for the firm to facilitate any capital flight from China or elsewhere.
Shen Yan, president of global capital markets at Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd, gave the response when asked about a recent report claiming that the firm was a target of a U.S. federal probe due to the amounts of money flowing through its current temporary casino on Saipan. The latter is the main land mass of an archipelago known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. jurisdiction.
Mr Yan, told us by telephone: “This is not possible. Of course we are not doing it.”
The Imperial Pacific executive added the firm had applied an anti-money laundering system to ensure full compliance with U.S. laws and regulations.
“Most importantly, the gaming system under which we are operating is part of the U.S., and it is regulated. For our VIP patrons, they feel safe and sound, and protected,” Mr Yan added.
According to Bloomberg data, Imperial Pacific saw its shares plunge to an 18-month low when it resumed trading on the Hong Kong bourse on Wednesday morning after a 24-hour suspension. The suspension followed publication of a Bloomberg news report on Monday that claimed the volumes of cash wagered at the firm’s Saipan temporary casino “are drawing the attention of law-enforcement officials” in the United States.
Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific has the right to an exclusive casino licence on Saipan. The casino licence was granted to Best Sunshine International Ltd, a subsidiary of Imperial Pacific. The temporary casino had a soft opening in July 2015, and the group is in the process of building a permanent facility called Imperial Pacific Resort (pictured in an artist’s rendering).
In a clarification announcement filed on Tuesday to the Hong Kong exchange, Imperial Pacific said its high VIP gambling turnover in Saipan was due simply to high demand for its 38 tables.
Bloomberg had said – citing sources it did not identify – that there was scepticism in the Macau gaming industry regarding how the Saipan operation had managed to record VIP rolling chip turnover for the first six months of 2016 amounting to HKD105 billion (US$13.5 billion) – a number quoted in its interim report in August – and VIP gross table games win of HKD3.8 billion for the period.
“We have a lot of repeat customers. Around 20 to 30 percent of our VIP gamblers are repeat customers, from January until now,” Mr Yan remarked to us, noting that the visa-free policy for Chinese nationals visiting the island; direct flights from mainland China and Hong Kong – as well as the island’s own natural beauty – were attractions for patrons.
The Bloomberg report said the firm had claimed approximately 100 high rollers per month visit its casino.
GGRAsia asked Mr Yan how – with a modest number of high-value players compared to the Macau market – the house managed to maintain capital liquidity in its VIP operations for baccarat, a table game well-known among casino professionals for volatility in its hold rate.
Mr Yan said simply: “Prior to August, we have had our own marketing team to source in [bring VIP] patrons, as well as some customers’ referrals and word-of-mouth.”
Saipan’s gaming regulator, the Commonwealth Casino Commission based on Saipan, issued a provisional licence to South Korea-based junket operator Big Bang Entertainment, reported the Saipan Tribune newspaper in September. At the time, the paper cited the regulator saying that it was looking into 17 applications for junket licences.
“Going forward, when we open our [permanent] facility around the Chinese New Year time in January, we’ll have junkets, who need to be licensed by local authorities,” Mr Yan told to us. “With junkets, we will mitigate the [gambling] credit risk and will also be able to broaden our customer base.”
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Analysts at brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd