HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Former Macau junket tycoon Alvin Chau appeared in court in the world's biggest gambling centre on Friday (Aug 2) to face more than 200 charges, including illegal gambling activities, running a criminal syndicate, money laundering and fraud.
Chau, one of the city's best-known public figures, stepped down as chairman of the Suncity junket in December 2021 after he was arrested by Macau police in November.
The arrest came after the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou issued a warrant accusing Chau of operating gambling activities in the mainland.
Macau, a special Chinese administrative region, is the only place in the country where citizens are legally allowed to gamble in casinos.
Junkets act as middlemen who help facilitate gambling for Chinese high-rollers in Macau, extending credit and also collecting on their debt on behalf of casino operators.
Chau arrived at Macau's primary court on Friday afternoon in a prison van, local broadcaster TDM reported.
His family members including his son, also attended the hearing, along with lawyers from casino operators including Sands China, Wynn Macau and MGM China, it said.
Chau's Suncity was a major player in Macau until 2019 prior to the coronavirus pandemic, accounting for around 25 per cent of total gaming revenues, industry executives said.
Macau casinos generated US$36 billion (S$50.48 billion) in revenue in 2019.
The total value of the illegal gambling syndicate's bets exceeded HK$824 billion (S$147.21 billion), according to TDM.
Chau's syndicate is accused of having swindled casino operators by hiding the revenue and the actual amount wagered, which affected casino revenue and government tax income.
Eleven of the 21 defendants involved in Chau's case were absent on Friday, prompting the court to postpone the trial to Sept 19.
The junket industry has collapsed in the former Portuguese colony since Chau's arrest, with all Suncity's VIP rooms shuttered last December.
Many others folded, hit by poor sentiment and a lack of business due Covid-19-related travel restrictions.
Macau's number two junket boss, Tak Chun's Levo Chan, was also arrested by police in January on charges of being involved in criminal organisation, illegal gambling and money laundering.
Both Chau and Chan have been in custody in Macau prison since their arrests. Reuters was not immediately able to contact their legal representatives.
Macau's government has tried to rein in junkets with a new law stipulating that casino operators no longer have dedicated junket rooms in casinos.
Their influence is likely to be further diluted going forward, analysts said.