Croupier and guard arrested over Macau casino heist of S$8m in gaming chips

The heist happened at mega casino Wynn Macau, owned by United States gaming tycoon Steve Wynn.
The heist happened at mega casino Wynn Macau, owned by United States gaming tycoon Steve Wynn. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Police in the world's biggest gambling hub Macau have arrested a croupier and a security guard over a massive casino heist where almost HK$48 million (S$7.9 million) in gaming chips were stolen from a VIP room.

Semi-autonomous Macau is the only part of China where casino gambling is legal and is a favourite haunt of mainland high rollers.

The heist happened early on Tuesday morning (Jan 16) at mega casino Wynn Macau, owned by United States gaming tycoon Steve Wynn.

Police told reporters the two men - arrested on Thursday - were related to each other and were Macanese residents aged 49 and 70.

Local media TDM reported that the croupier said he had large gambling debts and that the guard was his uncle.

Surnamed Lee, the croupier had bagged the chips when the VIP room he was working in was largely empty at 7am, with no gamblers and only one other dealer present.

"(He) shouted at his female colleague, ordering her to stay quiet and lie on the gaming table. Then he returned to his assigned gaming table and took out HK$47,895,000 worth of chips", a police spokesman said on Friday.

Lee then stuffed the casino chips into a bag and drove away on a motorcycle.

He later met the security guard, surnamed Ho, at a park in neighbouring Taipa with the chips, the spokesman added.

Lee admitted guilt but refused to reveal the stolen chips' whereabouts, while Ho denied committing any crime.

Police said the looted casino chips could only be exchanged for cash at gaming resorts owned by the same operator.

Macau has a reputation as a money laundering centre for illicit cashflows out of China.

Casino heists and theft are rare, but not unheard of. A Hong Kong police officer was accused of stealing HK$800,000 worth of chips from Macau's glitzy Cotai Strip in September last year.

The latest robbery has shocked some in Macau, with major industry players now reviewing their security, said Mr Andrew Scott, CEO of Macau-based Inside Asian Gaming magazine.

"All the properties in Macau are thinking 'could this happen to us?' and they will be reviewing their procedures," he told AFP.

He said there were "multiple tactics" by which someone who had stolen chips could get them back into the system and reap financial value.

He added that in his more than 30 years in the industry, he had heard of at least a dozen similar incidents around the world.

"It's like a bank robbery - it's not an everyday event," Mr Scott said.

Hotel and casino giant Wynn, headquartered in Las Vegas, is one of six licensed operators in Macau, which boasts revenues far surpassing its American counterpart.