The number of licensed VIP gaming promoters in Macau has been slashed by almost half in 2022, falling below 50 for the first time since the junket licensing regime began some 20 years ago, according to information published by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) on Wednesday.
The DICJ’s list shows just 46 licensed junkets in 2022, down from 85 a year ago and well below the peak of 235 back in 2013.
The number of licensed junkets has fallen in all but one of the nine years since then, with this year’s figure dropping below the 77 operators licensed in 2006.
Although the DICJ did not provide any details on the reasons for the decline, it comes less than two months since the arrest and detainment without bail of Alvin Chau – the former CEO of Sun City Gaming Promotion Company Limited – who is currently awaiting trial for alleged criminal association, illegal gambling and money laundering.
Suncity, once the undisputed king of Asia’s junket industry with around 50% market share, announced the complete cessation of its business in December.
While the DICJ’s list of 46 approved VIP gaming promoters for 2022 does not include Suncity, it does include other leading junkets such as Tak Chun Group, Golden Group and Meg-Star International.
However, the future of their junket operations in Macau remains clouded, with a draft bill on amendments to Macau’s gaming law – published last week and currently up for debate by the Legislative Assembly – putting an end to dedicated junket rooms in the city’s casinos and revenue share arrangements between junkets and Macau’s casino concessionaires.
Each licensed promoter will also be restricted to “only carry out the activity of promoting games in one concessionaire” and will not be permitted to use third parties to conduct business “except in situations deemed necessary by their partners, members of the management body or employees.”
In a further blow to the junket industry, the government will ask concessionaires to administer a 5% withholding tax on all junket commissions. While such a stipulation already exists in Law 16/2001, successive Chief Executives have ordered a lower rate of withholding of less than 1%. IAG understands the full 5% withholding tax will be charged in future upon passing of the amended law.
The seismic shift in fortunes for Macau’s junket industry comes amid a crackdown on cross-border gambling by authorities in mainland China.
China’s Ministry of Public Security said earlier this month that it had investigated more than 17,000 cases of cross-border gambling and arrested more than 80,000 suspects in 2021 as part of its crackdown.
In August 2020, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced the establishment of a “blacklist” of overseas tourist destinations which it claimed were disrupting the nation’s outbound tourism market by opening casinos targeting mainland Chinese customers.