Money laundering in Macau is a secret to no one. A mind-boggling 202 billion USD in dirty cash is estimated to be laundered every year in the former Portuguese colony. Slightly more surprising (but still not very) is that even China’s state-run banks are in on the game.
At least two state banks have been implicated in a cash-for-gambling racket worth over 40 billion RMB. Hand-held UnionPay swipe-card devices are being used in Macau to provide cardholders with access to cash for gambling, disguising cash transferred as purchases of watches or jewelry by 99Bill.com, a third-party processing company. Once 99Bill.com clears the transaction and authorizes the remittance of funds from mainland bank accounts, it then authorizes the remittance of these payments to the Macau bank accounts of the shops involved.
Since Beijing only allows 20,000 RMB to be moved out of the mainland at a time, visitors to Macau intent on getting money acquired through bribery or embezzlement out of the country will often circumvent this rule by depositing money with junkets in the mainland, who then ferry the money across the border to be used as credit. As well as funneling their ill-gotten gains through casinos, punters also go to the SAR’s ubiquitous pawnshops to buy watches or jewelry on credit, and then immediately sell them back to the shop for cold, hard cash.
Gambling has a long and colourful history in Macau. From 1962 to 2001, Hong Kong business magnate Stanley Ho exercised a complete monopoly over the industry, bringing millions of Hong Kong gamblers into his iconic Casino Lisboa. After its handover to China in 1999, however, Macau became the only gambling hub for over a billion people, in a country simultaneously wracked with official corruption and bound by strict currency regulations, not to mention a formidable culture of gambling—in other words, the perfect recipe for a whole lot of crazy. Macau’s casinos now take in over US$45 billion a year, 7 times more than Las Vegas.
By Ryan Kilpatrick