The actual criminalisation of unauthorised money-exchange activity known to occur in Macau’s casinos or their surroundings is currently being considered by the city’s authorities, said on Wednesday Wong Sio Chak (pictured centre), Secretary for Security, during a media briefing on crime data for the first half of 2023.
Mr Wong did not go into detail on the mechanics of such criminalisation. But he said unauthorised money changing had “long been affecting security conditions inside casinos and the areas surrounding them”, and had often induced “other crimes”, notably “scams, illegal detainment of individuals, assaults and even murders”.
Bets at Macau casinos are mainly denominated in Hong Kong dollars, but many of the venues’ customers are from mainland China, which imposes controls on the amount of China’s currency, the yuan, that can be brought across the border, per trip.
Unauthorised currency exchange taking place in or around Macau casinos has been classified by Macau’s Public Prosecutions Office as activity between private parties, and so in general terms, it currently comes under the city’s financial regulatory framework, rather than being a criminal matter.
On this topic, Mr Wong said during the Wednesday briefing: “The Judiciary Police have… hoped that the illicit money exchange that is related to… gambling purposes could be criminalised.”
He added: “Alternatively, if these [illicit money exchanges] are not to be criminalised, we would assess how the fines can be enhanced to a very hefty level” for the purpose of “deterring such acts, coupled with measures such as enforcing an immigration ban on the offenders”.
The briefing heard that during the first six months of this year, Macau police identified – via daily inspections and various special operations at the city’s casinos – a total of “8,124” individuals involved with illicit money exchange. The tally was a 198.1 percent increase on the 2,725 individuals logged by the police in the first half of 2022, noted Mr Wong.
In the January to June period, Macau police had alerted the city’s casino regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, to 488 people involved with illicit money exchange, and the regulator had subsequently banned them from entering Macau casinos, said Mr Wong.
The Secretary also noted that most of the illicit money traders identified were residents of the Chinese mainland who had respectively entered Macau on a “tourist visa”.
In the first half – where Macau had seen the lifting of Covid-19 -associated travel restrictions, an increase in tourism and gaming business recovery – there had also been a growth in gaming-related crimes, stated Mr Wong during the briefing.
The Secretary said that the police had investigated 422 cases of suspected gaming-related crime during the first half. That was a 113.1 percent increase on the 198 cases in the same period in 2022. However, the first-half gaming-related crime case tally was still 56.4 percent lower than the same period in 2019, when the police investigated 968 cases.
Out of the 422 gaming-related crimes probed in the first six months of 2023, there had been year-on-year rises in alleged thefts, scams and usury, according to Mr Wong.
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