The reputation of Macau's booming gambling industry was under the spotlight yesterday after revelations that the territory's political leader had financial ties to a local casino tycoon.
The newspaper probe into Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho (何厚鏵) comes amid an explosion in the region's gaming sector that saw it overtake the Las Vegas Strip last year with more than US$6 billion in revenues.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported yesterday that Ho inherited his father's shares of a firm that was an investor in a Macau company led by local casino magnate Stanley Ho (何鴻燊).
It said Edmund and his two brothers inherited about HK$100 million (US$12.8 million) of shares in Many Town Company Ltd, an investor in Stanley Ho's Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau.
A Macau government spokeswoman said Edmund Ho had declared that he had transferred those shares to a brother in 1995 -- four years before he became Macau's leader -- and had never received any dividends from Many Town.
But a statement filed on June 29 this year showed that Edmund Ho still holds shares in the company, the Post reported.
"If that's the case, that would be very serious," said Jose Coutinho, a deputy in Macau's legislative assembly. "We are urging the government to clarify this, or Macau will become a laughing stock."
Macau's casino sector has surged since a 2001 law stripped Stanley Ho of his 40-year monopoly on casino operations in the tiny territory of 500,000 people.
The move attracted US operators whose glitzy new casino-hotel complexes have transformed the sector, ushering in massive growth.