Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Macau gambling palace falls victim to baccarat scam

DYING BY THE SWORD A well-known Hong Kong hustler somehow managed to hoodwink staff at a casino owned by a Las Vegas tycoon


When the cavernous Sands Macau casino opened this summer it was hailed as the glitzy, high-tech vanguard for an army of Las Vegas tycoons hoping to tap the fast-growing Asian gambling market.

But unfortunately for the US owner, a local card shark has stolen the show from the imported chorus girls and dragon dancers, with a baccarat scam that netted 30 million Hong Kong dollars (US$3.85 million).

The sting, one of the biggest in Macau's history, took place last week but was only discovered on Tuesday, when casino managers checked footage from surveillance cameras.

novice croupiers

The perpetrator, identified only as Wong, is said to have swapped cards with accomplices to build up a multimillion-dollar winning streak without arousing suspicion among the novice croupiers working on the casino's 277 gaming tables.

Given Wong's reputation, it was a surprise that he was even allowed into the Sands. According to the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong man had been barred by several gambling establishments in Macau and refused permission to board floating casinos off Singapore.

But the owner of the Sands, Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas mogul, is a relative newcomer to the former Portuguese colony, where 70 percent of tax revenues come from gambling.

He was the first rival to break the 50-year monopoly of the local tycoon Stanley Ho.

It would have been easy for the swindler to mingle in the vast crowds attracted by the new establishment, which boasts 93,000m2 of gambling space and a 36m chandelier.

Since it opened in May the Sands is said to have attracted 45,000 gamblers each day.

`highly embarrassing'

Sackings have followed the sting. According to the South China Morning Post, at least one executive has already been fired over this "highly embarrassing" incident.

Wong's fate is as yet unclear.

Police refused to confirm reports that he had been released on bail due to a lack of evidence against him.

He appears to have cashed in most of his chips. According to the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, the casino had time to block the last of his winner's checks -- worth HK$5 million. Wong is said to have complained vociferously when the bank refused to pay out.

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