Wan Kuok-koi, aka "Broken Tooth," is one of the fiercest gangsters in modern Chinese history. In 2012, he was released from prison after serving 14 years for illegal gambling, loan sharking, and his role in Macau's 1990s turf wars.
That's all in the past, though. Now he's getting into the casino business, according to Hong Kong's Next Media.
The thing is no one understands how, or even why.
What is certain, though, is that his return could mean a lot for Macau.Coming back, but to what?
Once the gambling capital of world, Macau's megacasinos have gotten crushed over the last year as the Chinese government has clamped down on corruption. Month after month, gambling revenue has plunged between 30% and 50% from the same time the year before.
High rollers especially have been chased away from the island as the VIP-junket companies that financed their gambling closed en masse. Sixteen percent of the junkets that existed in 2014 were gone by 2015.
But Broken Tooth, once a member of the 14K Triad (if you can ever leave the Triad) has just reportedly started his own VIP room. In which casino, though, we do not know.
What we do know, at least according to Next Media, is that Broken Tooth also got himself a seat on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an important political advisory committee. Powerful Macau businessmen like Melco Crown Entertainment's Lawrence Ho (son of Macau scion Stanley Ho) and Alvin Chay, another junket operator, are also on the committee.
So why does this matter?
China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced that it was ramping up its anticorruption drive.
But if Broken Tooth thinks he can make it in Macau's casino business, maybe it's because he's gotten assurances that the government's clamp down is about to loosen on the island. Maybe he knows the tide is about to turn.
Next Media says this shows “his ability to succeed where others fail.”
That's certainly true.
One more thing — Broken Tooth's seat on the CPPCC is a sign that the Wild West style corruption and lawlessness of Macau may not be entirely over. At least, not if you know the right people.
Things can be very different if you do not.
Alleged Wo Hop Triad member Cheung Chi-tai does not know the right people. He is reportedly a major investor in a huge junket company called Neptune Group, and he was just arrested by Hong Kong police on charges of money laundering.
See? Not everyone can stay in this business. Cheung also allegedly had ties with US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp. This allegation comes from Adelson's former Asia CEO, and Adelson firmly denied it in Court last month.
Cheung is the wrong person to know. See the difference?Don't start none, won't be none
When he was released in 2012, Broken Tooth promised he would not cause more trouble in Macau.
“It definitely won’t happen,” he said. “Nobody is causing trouble so why would there be any trouble?”
Wells Fargo analyst Cameron McKnight wrote in a recent note that Macau's June casino revenue is set to decline 39% to 40%. That decline would be the lowest month of revenue for Macau casinos in four years. Local officials are getting worried the city will be starved for cash.
Probably not the best time to have Broken Tooth on the loose. Right now, there's definitely trouble.
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