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Dice with death bad news for Packer

Vanda Carson January 20, 2009


JAMES PACKER may not be able to rely on return visits from all of his high rollers when his keenly awaited Macau casino City of Dreams opens later this year.

Revenues at high-roller casinos in Macau are down due to a lack in repeat business because many of their big-spending patrons don't make it back to the tables for the roll of the dice.

According to a study of 99 high rollers from mainland China whose gambling habits propelled them into the headlines, 44 per cent were either sentenced to death, murdered, committed suicide or were serving long jail sentences after committing crimes to fund their visits. Zeng Zhonglu, a professor at the Macau Polytechnic Institute, found 15 of the gamblers were sentenced to death, seven committed suicide or were "killed by others", two were given a death sentence reprieve and 20 were serving long jail sentences.

At least 10 Chinese companies collapsed, casualties of the massive gambling losses by big-spending players, known in the industry as "whales".

Of the group Mr Zeng followed, more than half worked for the Chinese Government or state owned enterprises.

The theft of state funds by government workers is believed to have triggered the Chinese Government's clampdown on issuing visas for visits to Macau, a move which has been blamed for the slump in gaming revenues which have fallen by 19 per cent since March.

The 33 officials followed reported losing an average of $US2.7 million ($4 million) each while 19 senior managers at state-owned enterprises lost $US1.9 million each. Seven cashiers at state-owned businesses shed an average of $US500,000. Mr Zeng said he was unable to use questionnaires or surveys to poll high rollers because they were "reluctant to reveal their gambling experiences". His research found that in a single gambling session one gambler lost $US12 million, and one private company owner lost $US96 million over several years.

The average total loss for 99 gamblers was $US3.4 million.

Mr Zeng was unable to determine which casinos were used by the gamblers in his survey.

High rollers are vital to Macau's 31 casinos, with revenues from baccarat games played in private rooms reserved for VIPs generating 70 per cent of total casino revenue at its peak at the start of 2008.

In 2008 they made up 68 per cent of revenues, or 74 billion patacas. Both of James Packer's casino joint ventures in the former Portuguese colony, Crown Macau and his soon-to-be-opened City of Dreams, focus on high rollers. Crown Macau has a market share of 14 per cent, behind Stanley Ho's Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts, according to the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Chinese visitors to Macau made up 56 per cent of all visitors in 2007 and by 2008 they were estimated to have grown to 70 per cent. Mr Packer's casino joint-venture partner Lawrence Ho has estimated they were as high as 93 per cent before the clampdown on visas began.

Casinos prefer Chinese visitors because they spend nearly four times as much as those from Hong Kong, an average of $US429 each, Mr Zeng said.

"Most of the high-stakes gambling lasted four years or less. After that, because of . crimes or other causes, the gambling stopped," he said.


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