Kings Roman Casino Expands, Despite US Sanctions
Kings Roman Casino in Laos is expanding the operation, despite being sanction as a hub for organized crime by the United States Treasury Department a year ago. The Kings Roman owner, Zhao Wei, has been construction new buildings on the complex since February 2018 — not long after the Treasury Department sanctioned the business.
Most organized crime syndicates tend to retreat into the shadows when the government of a global superpower calls them out. Not so in the specialized gambling zone of Laos, where gaming mogul Zhao Wei’s Kings Roman Casino is based.
Days after the U.S. Treasury called out Zhao Wei, he held a press conference to deny the charges. In the year since, Zhao has continued his operations unimpeded. Business is good and operations are ramping up.
The trend is not uncommon for casino operations in certain Southeast Asia countries, where organized crime units and other lawless organizations are known to collaborate. Southeast Asian countries have seen rapid growth in their casino operations, often to cater to Chinese tourists — especially high rollers. Some countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, have begun transitioning to legalized gambling in order to undermine illegal gaming enterprises.
Southeast Asia’s Casino Industry
It’s a smart move. The rapid increase of casino operators in Southeast Asia and nearby Oceanian countries — with 230 combined casinos in Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Philippines — makes it harder to determine which are legitimate operations and which are not.
All casinos on the list cannot be lumped into the same category, even in the same country. Many of Cambodia’s 150 casinos are legit, but many are not. The Philippines has casinos built by major international casino companies, though Rodrigo Duterte’s government has cracked down on some of the operations in the past two and a half years.
Myanmar Border Casinos
Myanmar has the most lawless situation. Small casinos built on the border with China are known for being hubs of money laundering, as well as lawless behavior. Myanmar’s casinos are known to have ties to armed rebel groups.
Money from these border casinos has been used to fund insurgents against Myanmar’s ruling junta. Cross-border gambling is considered a problem by leaders in China and Myanmar.
The Golden Triangle
The border area where Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand come together confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers is called the Golden Triangle. The CIA coined the term because the Golden Triangle is known as one of the world’s largest opium-producing regions.
The same region is where the Kings Roman Casino is located. The connection to the Golden Triangle is important to note, because the Treasury Department says the “Zhao Wei Transnational Crime Organization” is used to launder money for the drug trade.
Macau Crackdown, Southeast Asia Diaspora
According to a recent report by CNN, the crackdown on organized crime in Macau has led to Chinese crime units moving into Southeast Asia. By 2013, Macua was the largest casino destination in the world, with gaming revenues several times that of Las Vegas. Macau’s 2013 gaming revenues reached nearly $45 billion.
The under-the-table gaming revenues in Macau were as much as $200 billion, though. Unlike Las Vegas, Macau casinos did not offer “markers”, a form of credit for high rollers. Mainland Chinese courts did not enforce gambling debts, so Macau casinos had to find another system for handling casino credit.
Chinese Crackdown on Macau Casinos
That system was the junket operators. A junket operator would plan a Macau vacation for Chinese mainland high rollers. Part of the vacation package was gaming sessions inside private casino rooms in Macau resorts. The junket operators would pay the casino a fee to run the games, then offer credit to the VIP players. If the VIPs did not pay their debts, the junket operators would use extrajudicial means to collect the debts.
“Extrajudicial” in this case meant organized crime. Over time, the triads became closely connected to the junket operators. When the Beijing government began its crackdown in Macau in 2014, Chinese organized crime had to find new areas of operation. The best areas often were Southeast Asian countries.
If CNN is to be believed, the resulting five years have been about a diaspora of organized crime to the Laotian parts of the Golden Triangle, where the Kings Roman Casino is located. Despite US sanctions, Zhao Wei and his associates appear to continue operations with impunity.