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Macau's Casinos Try to Lure High Rollers Outside the Junket System

Casinos were fine paying middlemen to lure VIPs. Not anymore
Macau's Casinos Try to Lure High Rollers Outside the Junket System
Photograph by Jon Hicks/Corbis

In the 1990s, Macau’s gambling riches sparked bloody gunfights between triad gangsters vying for control of private gaming rooms for China’s wealthy. Today, there’s a new conflict brewing, only this time it’s being waged with private jets, limousines, and million-dollar loans. This latest battle pits casinos against their longtime allies, so-called junket operators that for years have recruited rich gamblers in China, whisked them to Macau, put them up in luxury hotels, and extended interest-free loans to circumvent limits on cash they can take out of the mainland.

In the early years after China allowed foreign gaming companies into Macau in 2002, the casinos and junket companies forged a symbiotic—and incredibly lucrative—relationship. Companies such as Sheldon Adelson’s Sands China needed a way to quickly attract high rollers, while junket operators led by Suncity Group and Jimei Group had decades of experience identifying and coddling wealthy Chinese willing to wager millions of dollars on a single night. Working together they helped propel Macau’s gambling revenue to $45 billion in 2013—almost seven times that of the Las Vegas Strip.