A former gaming executive and Macau casino junket provider has been alleged to have run a “criminal syndicate” according to Chinese officials.
A Beijing court ruled Nov. 24 that Ji Xiaobo “was involved in the crimes of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, unlawful intrusion into a home, illegal debt, transporting others across the border and establishing a casino,” according to Inside Asian Gaming.
The case becomes the latest news focusing on the Chinese casino and junket industry.
On The Run
Ji is the former head of Imperial Palace International, which ran the former Imperial Palace casino in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands. Chinese authorities allege Xiaobo operated the criminal enterprise from 2008-21 as head of the company and also during time working as an executive for the Macau junket company Hengsheng Group.
Prosecutors in the case allege Ji made illegal profits by opening casinos outside China. That included organizing associates to use violence or threats to repay of gambling debts. Chinese officials also allege Ji helped convert debts from gambling and illegally transfer the assets.
Others were also charged including Ji’s aunt, who received over eight years in prison. Ji faces a separate trial for his crimes in the case, but finding him hasn’t been easy.
“It is believed Ji has gone into hiding ever since the arrests of fellow junket operators, Suncity’s Alvin Chau and Tak Chun’s Levo Chan, in recent years,” AIG reports. “Hengsheng Group also closed after Ji’s disappearance.”
Casino Junkets Under Microscope
Casino junkets are highly popular in China. The country only allows gambling on the island of Macau and junket operators provide services for the country’s wealthy high rollers to gamble. The industry has faced more scrutiny in recent years however.
Alvin Chau operated junkets to the island for 10 years, making him a billionaire in the process, according to Nikkei Asia. However, Chau and several associates were arrested in April. Gamblers on junkets regularly use borrowed funds to gamble locally in Macau and then repay these loans on mainland China.
Many believe Chinese President Xi Jinping tightened up regulations on the industry, but that Chau and other operators ran afoul of those guidelines. Chinese officials believe some of these operators became involved in operating or owning part of overseas casinos as well outside of the country, such as the case involving Ji, leading to charges.
“The proliferation of overseas, lightly regulated casinos in places like Vietnam, the Philippines and Russia, among others, and the intense expansion of online gambling, targeting mainland Chinese customers, was the culprit,” former Bernstein Research global gaming analyst Vitaly Umansky said in a note to clients regarding the issues surrounding the Chinese junket industry.
Despite the issues and long shutdown of Macau casinos during COVID, experts say the island recently regained its position as the world’s top gambling destination.