China has continued to ramp up its war on cross-border gambling with the Ministry of Public Security promising a crackdown on illegal gambling activities over the Chinese New Year period and calling for guilty parties to surrender.
The Ministry issued a statement and hosted a press briefing on Friday where it outlined key steps to be taken in response to the National People’s Congress recently passing an amendment to China’s criminal law. The amendment, which takes effect from 1 March 2021, will create a new crime against cross-border casinos found to be organizing or soliciting Chinese citizens to gamble and increase penalties for those found guilty of serious breaches.
China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism also revealed last month it is preparing to expand a “blacklist” of overseas tourist destinations it says are attracting Chinese tourists for gambling activities.
While none of the destinations targeted have been publicly named, the Ministry of Public Security appears to be expediting all anti-gambling efforts ahead of Chinese New Year, promising Friday to deploy additional resources that will work closely with immigration authorities to implement strict immigration control measures while “strengthening law enforcement cooperation with certain countries” in order to prevent Chinese citizens gambling abroad.
“According to relevant data, the annual Spring Festival holiday is the most rampant period for overseas gambling groups to invite gambling and gambling activities,” said Liao Jinrong, Director of the Ministry’s Bureau of International Cooperation.
“It has not only caused a large outflow of funds, but also resulted in kidnapping, extortion, crimes involving gangs and other vicious crimes, which are serious threats. Our economic security and social stability underline the holiday atmosphere.”
The crackdown appears to be targeted both at those operating online gambling sites and at junket operators, with Liao warning that anyone involved in “gambling, online gambling, or providing funds and technical support for gambling activities” are in violation of China’s criminal law.
However, the Ministry has promised leniency to any “criminal suspects” who turn themselves in to authorities before 30 April 2021. According to the government’s statement on Friday, anyone who voluntarily surrenders and “truthfully confesses his crime” before the deadline “may be given a lighter or mitigated punishment according to law,” or if the circumstances are relatively minor “may be exempted from punishment.”
It also promises lighter punishments or exemptions for anyone exposing and providing evidence of the criminal behavior of others.
“The criminal suspect must recognize the situation clearly, cherish the opportunity, surrender as soon as possible, and strive for leniency,” the Ministry’s statement reads. “Those who refuse to surrender within the prescribed time limit shall be punished by judicial organs in accordance with the law.”
Analysts said Friday the move was almost certainly not targeted at Macau but that there would likely be some indirect impact due to increased scrutiny on junkets and their agents. Some individual players may also be discouraged from travelling to Macau.
“It goes without saying that scrutiny on junkets/agents (who are also involved in foreign casinos, not just Macau’s) is escalating to unprecedented levels, which in turn will continue to cripple their abilities to bring players to casinos – foreign or otherwise – including Macau,” said JP Morgan’s DS Kim and Derek Choi.
“The good news is, VIP has shrunk so much that the segment doesn’t really move the needle for profits or cash flows – our models have junket VIP accounting for only about 5% of industry EBITDA in 2022E.
“Moreover, we feel that investors have grown numb to these ‘VIP clampdown’ news anyway, following a series of intense headlines since mid-2020. We thus view the news as having limited impact on fundamentals and sentiment for now.”