Macau businessman and former legislator Chan Meng Kam (pictured) has been honoured by the Macau government with one of the city’s top honours, the Golden Lotus award.
Wednesday’s announcement – on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the handover of Macau from Portuguese administration to that of China – said that the businessman was among 46 individuals or organisations recognised by Macau for “achievements, outstanding contributions and distinguished services”.
The award to Mr Chan followed a recommendation from a Macau government committee.
Mr Chan’s privately-held Golden Dragon Group runs four Macau casino hotels controlling circa 200 gaming tables under so-called “service agreements”. The service agreement system – a legacy from the monopoly era of entrepreneur Stanley Ho Hung Sun – involves third-party investors piggybacking on the permits of one of the current licensees.
Golden Dragon’s Casino Golden Dragon and Casino Royal Dragon on Macau peninsula are both run via the licence of incumbent operator SJM Holdings Ltd. The firm’s Grand Dragon Casino on Taipa, makes use of the casino licence of Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd.
In addition, Mr Chan acquired in January from Hong Kong-listed China Star Entertainment Ltd another satellite venue, the Lan Kwai Fong casino hotel property, which utilises SJM Holdings’ gaming rights. The property has meanwhile been rebranded as Casino Million Dragon.
Mr Chan is currently a member of the Executive Council, the Macau government’s top advisory body.
In August, Mr Chan told GGRAsia he was “thinking about” bidding for a Macau gaming licence, in the event of a new public tender process.
The rights of the six current Macau licensees expire in either 2020 or 2022, and there has been some speculation among scholars and investment analysts that the Macau government might allow other investors to enter the sector, including possibly one or more of the current third-party backers. Some commentators have in any case called for an end to the current service agreement system once there is the anticipated new public tender process for Macau gaming rights.
The opening of Casino Royal Dragon in September 2017 by Mr Chan’s Golden Dragon Group caught some local industry observers by surprise at the time. The venue, in a refurbished building near the Macao Polytechnic Institute in downtown Macau, left some observers asking under what terms and conditions an apparently new-to-market casino venue had been allowed to operate.
It had been widely understood locally that Macau had a moratorium, introduced in 2008 during the time of Macau’s first chief executive, Edmund Ho Hau Wah, on casino service agreements. The moratorium was flagged as being designed to limit market expansion.
The head of Macau’s casino regulator eventually told media almost two months after the opening of Casino Royal Dragon that any request for a satellite casino opening was assessed independently.
Paulo Martins Chan, the director of Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, clarified that an important criterion when considering any such request was to ensure it did not expand the actual numbers of live-dealer gaming tables in the market. Macau has a policy of limiting expansion of new table numbers to 3 percent annual compound growth for a period of 10 years ending in 2022.
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Vitaly Umansky, Tianjiao Yu and Kelsey Zhu
Analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd