The Grand Ho Tram casino resort (pictured) in Vietnam is to start offering – to high-roller gamblers – live telephone betting on some of its tables from next month, a senior executive has confirmed to GGRAsia.
Players would be able to phone in their bets to a so-called proxy agent present at a table in the resort’s casino. The management has designated some tables for that purpose.
The baccarat tables used at The Grand for this form of betting – also known in the industry as proxy betting – will be overlooked by video cameras that will capture the play live and stream it via the Internet. That is a common business practice in casino venues where proxy betting is permitted, in order to reassure players that the game is fair.
“It is imminent and supposed to happen in early December. Our guys are just getting the software components in place, but we have all the hardware pieces set up,” Stephen Shoemaker, chairman and chief executive of the resort’s owner and developer Asian Coast Development (Canada) Ltd (ACDL) told GGRAsia on Wednesday.
But Mr Shoemaker stressed that customers would not be allowed to place – remotely via a computer – bets on the games being streamed online.
Mainland China prohibits – and tries to block – any websites offering online betting to its citizens.
In October, Singapore’s parliament passed the Remote Gambling Act, barring online gambling within the city-state, and barring banks from processing any payments by Singapore citizens for online gambling services.
Mr Shoemaker said, regarding The Grand’s planned proxy betting operation: “It will be streamed on the Internet, but it won’t be ‘online betting’. It’s truly phone betting. A player can watch the feed of the table, and then they can place the phone call to the proxy.”
He added: “Our legal guys have said it’s legal in Vietnam and there are no issues. It’s already being done at other casino properties in Vietnam.”
Falcone still in
ACDL’s Mr Shoemaker additionally told GGRAsia that the planned departure of New York-based financier Philip Falcone from the Harbinger Group on December 1 was “completely unrelated” to the way The Grand is funded and managed. He said that was conducted via another entity – hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners LLC – with which Mr Falcone is still involved.
In September this year, Harbinger Capital Partners announced it was providing US$50 million funding to add to the approximately US$500 million already spent on the venue. Harbinger is the majority shareholder of ACDL.
The Grand – a beachside resort located 120-kilometres (75 miles) southeast of Ho Chi Minh City – struggled to find casino customers after its first phase opening in July 2013, due in part to Vietnam’s ban on locals playing in the country’s casinos.
But since Chien Lee – a founder of Macau junket room business Iao Kun Group Holding Co Ltd – invested US$20 million in the project in July, The Grand’s profile among Chinese gamblers has risen.
In the first 18 days of October, the property achieved higher rolling chip volume than in any previous entire month in the casino property’s 14 months of operation, the management told GGRAsia last month.
Mr Lee recently revealed to GGRAsia he had personally introduced 35 high-roller acquaintances to The Grand so that they could make visits in person.
Proxy betting of the type now planned at The Grand could appeal to mainland Chinese players that are already a customer of Macau junkets but that prefer not to be seen in Macau following the anti-corruption crackdown on the mainland.
Proxy betting appears to be something of a grey area legally in Macau. Some operators appear to have tolerated phone betting in their VIP rooms while others have barred it.
“There is a prohibition in Macau law 16/2001 on interactive gaming,” a specialist in gaming law told GGRAsia.
“That’s defined as entering in and participating in a game using a telecommunications device,” added the source.
“But the thing about proxy betting is that the person that’s on the other end of the phone [the gambler] isn’t participating in the game. All he’s doing is instructing the person who is participating. So effectively – in Macau – that activity is getting around that prohibition,” added the lawyer.
Macau’s regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau – also known as DICJ – does bar Macau casinos and gaming promoters from doing live online video streaming of the gambling games conducted in the city’s casinos.
On October 29, GGRAsia exclusively reported that Sands China Ltd had told its Macau junket partners that proxy betting would no longer be allowed in its Macau casinos.
The company declined to comment on whether any particular jurisdiction had asked it to take such steps. But GGRAsia understands from industry sources that the move relates to Sands China’s desire not to expose its parent Las Vegas Sands Corp to regulatory risk in the U.S.
“Proxy betting can create problems for compliance with anti-money laundering protocols,” the legal source told GGRAsia.
The proxy betting market serving Asian players could be worth a lot of money. Analysts Jamie Soo and Adrian Chan from Daiwa Securities Co Ltd in Hong Kong said in a note on November 4: “Based on our latest conversations with junkets and other industry participants, phone betting accounts for around 8 percent of annual VIP betting revenue in Macau.”
In the calendar year up to September 30, VIP baccarat in Macau accounted for MOP166.48 billion (US$20.8 billion) in gross gaming revenue according to data from DICJ. So by Daiwa’s estimates proxy betting in Macau in the first nine months of the year could have been a US$1.7 billion business.
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Amount that each Macau casino operator paid for the circa six-month extension of their respective contract