|Forget Macau, it’s Las Vegas that’s the preferred destination for Chinese “Whales” – high-rolling gamblers from the ranks of government, business, bookmaking and organized crime. Apparently, they prefer Las Vegas at least partly because they aren’t going to have their every move scrutinized by state security agents, as happens in Macau, the former Portuguese territory that returned to Chinese control in 1999. |
One such Whale, Ma Xiangdong, executive deputy mayor of the northeastern city of Shenyang, was executed last year after appearing on tape. Ma had gambled, and lost, $4 million in public funds on 17 trips to Macau. And a month before being arrested, Liu Yong, one of China’s most notorious gangsters, lost several million dollars playing baccarat at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, according to industry sources.
Yong and Xiangdong are indicative of a trend. Gambling executives say China's big-time gamblers could become the fastest-growing market among high-stakes Asian players, outstripping those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.
And although Japanese gamblers still outnumber their Chinese counterparts in Las Vegas casinos, they are attractive customers for Vegas bosses on account of their prodigious appetite for gambling huge sums.
Over the past few years, The MGM Grand, Harrah's, the Venetian, Caesars Palace and the Stratosphere, have opened offices in China or began dispatching representatives to China to organize groups of high-stakes gamblers. Casinos from South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and North Korea have followed suit.
'Asians are the only growing segment of the casino market,' said Bill Chu, Asia regional marketing director for Harrah's Las Vegas. 'And the Chinese are the only people in Asia with cash. Hong Kong is dried up. Taiwan is dried up. Forget Japan. Thailand is history.'
Chu estimated that he could possibly bring in 100 to 500 Chinese players a month gambling in the $30,000 to $100,000 category.