After local police uncovered a major kidnapping ring ahead of a visit from China’s president next month, Macau casino loansharks are laying low.
Macau’s Judiciary Police (PJ) and their allies in the neighboring city of Zhuhai announced this week that in their Double Arrow joint operation, they had arrested 55 individuals suspected of involvement in a ‘usury syndicate’ which was active in local casinos.
Choi Ian Fai who is PJ spokesperson told local media that the operation was triggered by a tip which came in nearly two years ago. The suspects, comprising a mix of local residents and mainland Chinese, have supposedly been offering illegal loans to Macau gamblers since 2013, earning profits of about HK$70m (US$9m) in the process.
As mentioned on the Calvinayre.com website, the suspects are being charged with “deprivation of others’ freedom of movement,” implying that the indebted gamblers would be held hostage until they could make some arrangements to repay the money they’d borrowed, typically by contacting friends of relatives on the mainland.
A number Macau casino VIP rooms were also the target of Monday’s raid, from which around HK$400k in cash from 17 “junket accounts” was seized. More arrests are expected to follow as the authorities recovered a few flash drives on which the gang’s financial data was recorded.
Macau’s government revealed earlier this week that although the special administrative region’s overall crime rate was stable, gaming-related crime increased almost one-fifth. Gaming-related loansharking operations were up by more than one-fifth while illegal detentions of indebted gamblers had risen more than one-quarter.
That’s why Monday’s raids could be regarded as a ‘look busy, the boss is coming’ move, coming as they do only weeks prior to a rumored visit to Macau by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is expected to land on the region between December 18-20 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Macau’s official handover from Portugal to China.
December 2014 was the last time Xi was in Macau and during his visit, he urged Macau to diversify its economy beyond gaming. Xi will certainly challenge his hosts to show that they’ve been implementing his vision for Macau’s future.
Fascinatingly, Xi’s 2014 visit came as Macau was experiencing a severe VIP gaming slowdown, a collapse that Macau just recovered from last year. With Xi’s arrival looming, current market trends show the struggling VIP market surpassed by the mass gaming segment.