Macau’s casino operators could be liable for any debts left by defunct junkets under a landmark ruling by the Court of Final Appeal.
According to a report by TDM Radio Macau, the Court of Final Appeal (TUI) last week upheld a 2018 decision by the Court of Second Instance which found Wynn Macau Ltd and junket promoter Dore Entertainment Co Ltd jointly liable for repayment of a HK$6 million (US$770,000) debt owed to a VIP customer.
The debt relates to the high-profile theft of up to HK$700 million (US$90 million) from Dore’s VIP room at Wynn Macau in 2015. Following the theft, four players took the matter to court seeking a combined HK$64 million (US$8.2 million) they claimed to have deposited with the junket. However, only one of those players was able to produce a receipt proving his deposit, with the Court of First Instance subsequently determining Dore was solely responsible for the HK$6 million owed to him.
In 2018, the Court of Second Instance overturned that decision, ruling instead that Wynn and Dore were jointly responsible – a decision now backed by Macau’s top court.
“It seems clear and evident that gaming promoters will have to be included among the contracted entities for the development of the activities that comprise the concession … thus being equally evident that this is a legal public relationship. which characterizes the concessionaire’s subjection to a public law regime,” the ruling reads.
Current legislation does not exclude “non-contractual joint liability towards third parties of the concessionaire.”
The decision has potentially huge ramifications for the industry given the intimation that concessionaires could be held liable for any debts left outstanding by junket promoters to their investors should they go broke.
In an article published in Gaming Law Review in March of this year, former senior advisor to Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, António Lobo Vilela, warned the TUI’s decision – which was pending at the time – would “reshape forever the relationship between casino operators and gaming promoters, finally understanding that the latent financial risks could eventually outweigh the perceived profitability of the VIP gaming.”
Macau’s VIP industry has been in decline for a number of years now, with just 85 licensed promotors as of January 2021 – the lowest number since just 77 were licensed back in 2006, according to figures from the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ).
The number of licensed operators peaked at 235 in 2013 but has fallen in seven of the past eight years including a decline of 10 from the 95 operators licensed in January 2020.
It is expected that number will continue to fall given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on regional travel and China’s crackdown on cross-border gambling.
As reported by Inside Asian Gaming, VIP baccarat contributed just MOP$5.96 billion in gross gaming revenue in 3Q21 compared to MOP$31.09 billion in the same period in 2019, while its share of Macau gaming revenue fell to 31.5% – less than half of the 73% share it held back in 2011.