Mining titans, movie moguls: Macau's junket operators branch out

Mon Jul 1, 2013 12:11pm EDT
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By Farah Master

MACAU (Reuters) - When junket operator Suncity opened its first high roller baccarat table at Steve Wynn's Macau casino in 2007 to lure China's wealthiest punters, the firm had fewer than 30 employees and no computers or equipment other than pen and paper.

Five years later, Suncity has emerged as the dominant junket in the Chinese territory. It is planning to open its own resort, independent of casino stalwarts such as Las Vegas Sands, and is expanding into everything from mining to films.

Macau's booming revenues that totaled $38 billion last year - six times that of the Las Vegas strip - are indebted to its unique VIP junket system, where licensed middlemen act on behalf of the casinos to attract "big whale" spenders by arranging their travel and accommodation and handle their gambling credit.

Now the transformation of the former Portuguese colony from a hotbed of crime into a playground for China's nouveau riche has spawned a new breed of junkets, eager to shed the industry's shady image and establish themselves as multinational conglomerates.

"Suncity is a young and very energetic corporate. There is a need to be diversified," said YM Choong, a senior executive at the company, in an interview with Reuters.

"For future investments we would look to expand in different areas, particularly property, finance and media. We would look to list other parts of the business."

The evolution of the junkets is welcomed by the authorities, who are eager to re-position Macau as an all-round international travel destination, but could shake-up the dynamics of the world's largest gambling market.

The junkets have traditionally worked for the casinos, which rely on them for more than two-thirds of their revenue. Now, leveraging their extensive customer databases and sophisticated resources, they could one day start competing with them.   Continued...

A logo of Galaxy Suncity VIP Club is displayed inside Macau Galaxy resort in Macau June 23, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Yeung