Macau's house of cards topples as investors lose big on junkets
By Farah Master
MACAU (Reuters) - The theft of millions of dollars from investors in a Macau junket operator has sparked months of protests and hastened the demise of a business model that greased the wheels of the $44 billion global gambling hub for over a decade.
Brandishing banners and loudspeakers, dozens of investors have protested outside Wynn Macau Ltd's casino for two months, demanding the return of money stolen by an employee of junket operator Dore Entertainment Co Ltd and accusing Dore's head of dodging responsibility.
The crime has left the junket industry's reputation in tatters and sped up the Chinese territory's shift away from VIP gamblers - who used to account for more than 80 percent of its gaming revenues - to the mass-market segment of less wealthy Chinese tourists.
"We do see stabilization in mass, unlike in VIP where it continues to drop like a rock," Nomura analyst Richard Huang said in Hong Kong.
Macau's shift towards the mass market plays into Beijing's overall strategy to make the former Portuguese colony a world-class tourism hub rather than a playground for corrupt officials and businessmen.
In a first for the territory, Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd, a venture co-owned by Macau mogul Lawrence Ho and Australian tycoon James Packer, opened a $3.2 billion Hollywood-themed casino in October with no VIP gaming tables.
Speaking to investors after the opening, Ho said Macau's VIP sector had been "permanently and structurally changed".