Macau’s VIP gaming promoters – also known as junkets – are currently only able to collect 20 percent to 30 percent of their debts, according to a report by Bloomberg News quoting an interview with Kwok Chi Chung, president of the Macau Junket Operators Association.
The report didn’t specify whether the figure quoted was for aged – i.e. overdue – accounts, or for the regular collection cycle on VIP gambling. In Macau, high roller players gamble on credit – most of it extended by the junkets rather than the house – and then pay back their losses later on a schedule agreed with the individual junket concerned.
In 2013, 70 percent of loans were repaid promptly, said Mr Kwok, according to the Bloomberg report. “With a longer payback period, junkets have less money to lend to new customers, and the business size is shrinking accordingly,” Mr Kwok was quoted saying.
The Macau junket market depends on capital liquidity in order to loan out money afresh for further gambling. According to investment analysts, private investors have in the past been happy to lend money to junkets for the credit cycle, confident that they would get their money back with interest above bank market rates. But the confidence in the system has been shaken by a number of events.
In September, Macau junket operator Dore Entertainment Co Ltd announced it had been a victim of internal fraud by a former employee. Complaints reported to the Macau police from those presenting themselves as investors in the cage operations of Dore involved claims for at least HKD520 million (US$67.1 million) by the end of October, reported local Chinese-language newspaper Macao Daily News.
Deutsche Bank AG in Hong Kong said in a note issued on September 23 that Macau’s current cycle of junket troubles began in April 2014, when a junket operator called Huang Shan – who had offered a high monthly dividend of 2.5 percent to junket investors in exchange for junket capital – fled with an amount reported to be as much as HKD10 billion.
Other factors affecting the Macau junket business have been the mainland’s tightening of controls on cross-border money transfer, say some analysts.
“The campaign against capital outflow has also to some extent dampened junket liquidity, as junkets generally rely on the underground banking system to sidestep China’s capital control rules and to transfer large sum money across the border,” stated a note from brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd on November 24.
Some junkets are now packaging bad debts and distressed assets and selling them to third-party financial investors at a discount, reported Bloomberg, quoting Tony Tong, a co-founder of Pacific Financial Services Ltd, a Hong Kong-based firm whose services include debt-collection and risk management.
Mr Kwok was described in the report as a former member of the Macau Judiciary Police, having joined the body in 1985 and later managing its gaming-related crimes, economic crimes and anti-money laundering divisions until his retirement in August 2010.
To stem rising junket debts, the Macau Junket Operators Association has called for the Macau government to authorise the publication of a blacklist that the association’s members could use to identify bad debtors, Mr Kwok told Bloomberg.
Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Leong Vai Tac, has said that creating a database listing junket clients with outstanding debts would have to comply with the Macau Personal Data Protection Act. “Creating a list of clients with outstanding debts would involve sharing personal information,” Mr Leong said in an encounter with Macau legislators, adding that such a list could not be allowed to breach relevant laws.
It was reported by the Macau media earlier this year that Charlie Choi Kei Ian – described to a Macau court as the founder of a website called 99world.com that names and shames alleged junket debtors – had been given a six-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, by the court for violating Macau’s personal data protection law and for aggravated disobedience. After the trial, Mr Choi denied being the owner of the website, and said he would appeal against the decision.
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"The [Macau] government has a lead in this subject in regards to what should be done after the [gaming] concessions expire. We will be first listening to what the government will say”
Ambrose So Shu Fai
Vice-chairman and chief executive at Macau casino operator SJM Holdings