Adds details on case
HONG KONG, Jan 18 (Reuters) - A Macau court sentenced a top gambling boss to 18 years in prison after he was found guilty of 162 charges, including enabling and operating illegal gaming, public broadcaster TDM reported on Wednesday.
Alvin Chau was chairman of Macau's Suncity junket operator - which brokered the gambling activity of Chinese high rollers - until December 2021, a month after his arrest.
The sentence marks a dramatic turnaround for the businessman, who was also found guilty of fraud and of running a criminal syndicate, and who once presided over the gambling hub's VIP industry.
Chau denied all wrongdoing during his two-month trial, which was watched closely by many in the former Portuguese colony, where he has a celebrity-like status.
Chau must pay the Macau government more than HK$6.5 billion ($830.66 million) as well as HK$178 million to HK$770 million to casino operators MGM China 2282.HK, Wynn Macau 1128.HK, Sands China 1268.HK, Galaxy Entertainment 0027.HK AND SJM Holdings 0880.HK, TDM said.
Macau is the only city in China where citizens are permitted to gamble in casinos. Tax revenues from its casinos account for more than 80% of government income.
Chau's lawyers had argued that he did not operate any illegal gambling or commit money laundering and that his business in the Philippines was permitted by local authorities there. No one from Suncity Group had promoted gambling on the mainland, his lawyers said.
Junket operators help facilitate gambling for wealthy Chinese in Macau, extending them credit and collecting on their debt on behalf of casino operators. Marketing or soliciting gambling in mainland China is illegal.
Chau's Suncity was a major player in Macau until 2019, before prior the coronavirus outbreak, accounting for about 25% of total gaming revenues, industry executives said.
That year, Macau casinos generated $36 billion in revenue.
The junket industry has collapsed in the former Portuguese colony since Chau's arrest, with all of Suncity's VIP rooms shuttered. Many other operators folded, hurt by poor sentiment and a lack of business due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
Macau's government still permits junkets to operate but they face far more scrutiny after new legislation approved in December last year which regulates their licensing and activities.
Junkets are now only allowed to partner with a single casino; before they could work with as many as they wanted with little oversight.
($1 = 7.8251 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Farah Master and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)
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