Las Vegas casino's bid to collect debt exposes world of Chinese high-rollers
By the time the Las Vegas Sands tried to collect on the gambling debts last year, the two women owed €5.7m, lost in a few disastrous days of baccarat.
But when the Sands asked prosecutors to press criminal charges against Xiufei Yang (59) and Meie Sun (52) over the debts, their attorneys struck back with a surprising allegation.
Yang and Sun weren't high-stakes gamblers, their attorneys said in court filings. They were local housekeepers, recruited with the co-operation of Sands personnel to take out millions of dollars in credit in their names and sit near the players as they gambled with the borrowed chips. It means the real gamblers could play without a paper trail at the company's Venetian and Palazzo casinos. Lawyers for the women describe them as the bottom rung of a network of hosts and handlers who court wealthy gamblers from China and sometimes help them play anonymously.
Since all sides knew the debts were a sham, the attorneys argued, Sun and Yang's markers - the IOUs players sign to get credit from casinos - should be null and void. The women were "the real victim(s) here," their attorneys alleged.
Sands called those allegations a "smokescreen".
But the case opens a window into how Las Vegas casinos keep multi-million-dollar bets sloshing freely across gaming tables in the post-9/11 era, when big cash transactions have come under tighter controls.
Las Vegas insiders said the use of shills is a frequent practise at some casinos catering to high-stakes Chinese players. That shows how crucial Chinese money has become to the American gambling capital.
In recent years, Vegas has tried to draw wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers, often to the baccarat tables, by loading up casinos with exclusive VIP rooms featuring the décor of China's betting capital, Macau.
Over the past decade, as overall gambling revenue on the Strip stagnated, baccarat winnings for casinos nearly doubled to $1.3bn, state records show, mainly thanks to Chinese gamblers.
But there is a catch: Most of these games are played on credit, mostly borrowing from the house. And gambling debt isn't recognised as valid by Chinese courts, so it is largely unenforceable in China - making it a risky business for casinos. (Reuters)