Shares in Macau’s largest junket operator Suncity plummeted more than 48 percent on Tuesday after boss Alvin Chau was detained for allegedly running illegal betting activities overseas.
Chau was placed in custody by a criminal court in the city on Monday following his arrest at the weekend over allegations he ran an illegal syndicate, a move that has sent fresh business jitters through the gambling enclave.
Chau is accused of leading a criminal group, money laundering and illegal gambling, the city’s prosecution said Monday, charges that can carry between three and 12 years in jail.
Chau’s Suncity Group halted trading in Hong Kong on Monday but as trading resumed Tuesday it plunged, losing nearly half their value to end at HK$0.13.
Suncity told Hong Kong’s stock exchange late Monday that Chau had resigned from the board and the investigation would impact operations.
Almost all gambling is forbidden in mainland China but it is permitted in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that boasts a casino industry bigger than Las Vegas.
Chau and 10 other senior executives were arrested in a midnight raid by Macau police and passed to the prosecution on Saturday.
Six were granted bail but banned from leaving the city.
Prosecutors have accused the group of setting up an illegal online betting platform in the Philippines and soliciting mainland Chinese customers with live broadcasts for large-sum online gambling.
They allege Macau bank accounts and underground banking tools were used to transfer revenues from the operation.
Chau’s arrest in Macau came two days after authorities in the mainland city of Wenzhou announced they had issued their own warrant for his arrest for running an illegal gambling syndicate.
Macau police said their two-year investigation was separate from the mainland’s.
It is the first time such a high-profile figure from Macau’s gaming industry has been arrested in an ongoing crackdown against the sector, with plans announced in September to increase government regulation.
Macau’s six major casino operators have seen millions wiped from their value this week.
The vast majority of punters in Macau are Chinese mainlanders, and junket operators such as Suncity arrange for high-rollers to come for legal gambling.
President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has seen increased scrutiny of big-spending gamblers and corrupt officials who might travel to Macau to place bets and launder money.
In September Macau announced plans to put government representatives on licensed operators’ boards to oversee their dealings, and to criminalise underground banking in the industry, a move that led to a plunge in casino operator share prices.
The six major casino operators are all required to rebid for their casino licences when they expire in June 2022.
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