China Tightens Reins on Macau
Police in Gambling Enclave, Mainland Detain Junket Operators; First Sign of a Corruption Crackdown
The Chinese government is increasing its scrutiny of Macau's booming casino industry and the junket operators that bankroll its high-rolling gamblers, the first sign of a crackdown on corruption following stepped-up rhetoric by China's new leadership.
Police in mainland China and Macau have recently detained people from at least three of Macau's biggest junket operators. The WSJ's Kate O'Keeffe discusses the jolt to Macau's lucrative gambling industry.
In recent weeks, police in mainland China and Macau have detained people from at least three of Macau's biggest junket operators, the middlemen who extend credit to high-roller players and collect the debts in China, according to people familiar with the situation. Some of the detentions have occurred in China and in other cases, the detainees have been moved there, these people say.
Casino operators in Macau have also noticed more restrictions on cross-border financial transactions involving Chinese funds and recently received requests for information from Macau police about the people staying at their hotels, casino executives and others said. Such requests aren't unheard of but have raised concerns in light of the other events, these people say.
The territory is also reviewing its money-laundering rules and recently asked casino operators for feedback on proposed rule changes.
Details about why the people were detained or their current status weren't available because Chinese police don't routinely make such matters public. There have been no official allegations of wrongdoing by junket operators, individuals or casinos.
The recent detentions "are an attempt by the Chinese government to tell people in the market that they need to behave, especially regarding underground money transfers," said Hoffman Ma, deputy chief executive of Ponte 16, a Macau casino.
Macau boomed in recent years as Chinese gamblers flooded into the former Portuguese colony, which now generates more than five times the gambling revenue of the Las Vegas Strip. International authorities, including in the U.S., have raised concerns that wealthy Chinese were using the casinos to launder the proceeds of corruption and to illegally get money out of the country.
Chinese individuals aren't allowed to move more than $50,000 a year out of the country, including to Macau, which, like Hong Kong, is part of China but has its own financial system and its own set of laws. That restriction has prompted some high-roller gamblers to rely on junket operators to get around Chinese laws and provide access to greater sums.
According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Chinese economic data, about $225 billion flowed out of China in the 12 months through September, a number that captures both legal capital outflow and some of the illicit flow.
Displays of wealth, such as the increasing numbers of wealthy Chinese coming to gamble in Macau's casinos, are of concern to the Chinese government amid heightened outrage at official corruption after the fall of former party high-flier Bo Xilai, who was ousted from his party posts in the spring and whose wife was convicted in August of murdering a British businessman.
Xi Jinping, who took the reins of China's Communist Party last month, highlighted corruption in his first speech as party leader. His predecessor, Hu Jintao, warned in his final speech as party chief that official corruption had become such a serious problem it could "cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state."
U.S. law-enforcement officials and diplomats have long suspected that junket operators carried out money laundering and had ties to organized-crime gangs known as triads. A reminder of the grip the triads have traditionally held on Macau came over the weekend, when a former leader of a triad operating in Macau, "Broken Tooth" Wan Kuok-koi, was released from maximum-security prison after serving 14 years for triad membership and money laundering among other crimes. Since Macau returned to Chinese control in 1999, triad violence has declined.
Last month at Wynn Macau, police detained a partner of one of Macau's major junket operators who has ties to Mr. Bo, the disgraced Chinese politician, said people familiar with the situation. The partner, Pang Yufeng, and his associates, including his driver, were taken to China at the request of Chinese authorities, the people said.
Mr. Pang is one of four partners at junket operator David Star, which has a presence at all six of Macau's casino operators, including properties owned by U.S. operators Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp., according to people familiar with the matter and David Star's corporate website. David Star didn't return calls seeking comment. Mr. Pang couldn't be reached to comment.
Mr. Pang is also the director of a David Star affiliate called Zhong Ying Sociedade Unipessoal Lda., which operates at Sands' Venetian Macau property, according to Macau corporate records and an internal Sands document viewed by the Journal.
Wynn Resorts general counsel Kim Sinatra declined to comment, as did Sands spokesman Ron Reese. The Macau government's Office of the Secretary for Security and the Macau police also declined to comment.
Officials from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China's State Council weren't available to comment.
Chinese police have also detained people on the mainland from at least four junket groups that operate in Macau in conjunction with their alleged illegal underground banking activities, said people familiar with the matter.
Qin Si Xin, another partner of David Star, is among those who have been detained in China, these people say. Mr. Qin, a mainlander, is listed on a Las Vegas Sands ledger viewed by the Journal that shows intracompany transactions between Macau and Las Vegas. In September 2009, he received $1.65 million at the Venetian in Las Vegas from a junket operator in Macau, according to the ledger. It is unclear what the payment was for, but there is no evidence that Mr. Qin's transaction violated any laws. He couldn't be reached to comment.
Transfers where money flows across borders via casino accounts have raised concerns among casino executives and U.S. authorities that customers could exploit the intracompany accounts to launder money.
The apparent crackdown comes as the Macau government conducts a major review of its antimoney-laundering rules. Hong Kong tightened its antimoney-laundering rules in April, which pushed banking business to Macau, people familiar with the transactions said.
There is some evidence that the junket operators' high-roller clients are scaling back their gambling. In the third quarter, Macau's VIP gambling revenue fell 1.1% compared with the previous year, the first decline since 2009. Revenue from slots and mass-market tables rose 27%, according to government statistics.
Mr. Ma, the Macau casino official, said the Chinese government flexed its muscle over Macau in 2008 when it tightened visa restrictions for its citizens coming to Macau, hurting the casinos' business. "Visa restrictions years ago showed the power of the Chinese government to control Macau's gambling revenue if they want to," he said.
—Deborah Kan contributed to this article.
Write to Kate O'Keeffe at Kathryn.OKeeffe@wsj.com
A version of this article appeared December 4, 2012, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: China Tightens Reins on Macau.
If anybody is in New York, please check out the off-Broadway hit Forever Dusty, co-written by my old pal Jonathan Vankin...
Forever Dusty tells the dramatic, revealing story of how a shy Irish Catholic school girl from West London transformed herself into the voice of blue eyed soul, the face of Swinging London, and a worldwide superstar -- the legendary Dusty Springfield.
The provocative musical stars Kirsten Holly Smith in a tour de force performance, channeling the power and presence of Dusty in such memorable classics as Son of a Preacher Man, You Don‘t Have to Say You Love Me, The Look of Love, and many more.
Dusty Springfield was not only one of the greatest talents of her (or any) era, placing 19 records on the Billboard charts and many more in the UK, Australia and Europe, she was a woman of tremendous courage, blazing a trail for decades ahead of her. She remains to this day as one of the most influential, important female singers in pop history. Dusty fought and sacrificed to control her own career and her destiny, inspiring generations to follow in her footsteps.
Bursting with all the joy and sadness, laughter and tears of Dusty Springfield's remarkable life, Forever Dusty features can't miss performances of some of the greatest songs ever written, by such Hall of Fame composers as Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil -- and many more.
Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year: LeBron James
First Good Look at Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs
Well, Ashton Kutcher certainly pulls off the look of Steve Jobs in the new movie jOBS. The question is, will he be able to pull off a solid performance? We'll find out soon enough. The movie is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next year, and we'll be there to see it and review it!
The movie is being directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote), and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out...
The film covers Jobs from his early years as an impressionable youth and wayward hippie, through his initial successes and infamous ousting, to his storybook return and ultimate triumphs as a man who set out to change the world and did just that.
jOBS chronicles the 30 most defining years of Steve Jobs’ life, as seen through his, colleagues’, and friends’ eyes. Dark, honest, and uncompromising, jOBS plunges into the depths of his character, creating an intense dialogue-driven story that is as much a sweeping epic as it is an immensely personal portrait of Steve Jobs’ life.
A rousing narrative of this business and tech icon, jOBS pulls no punches and does not speculate, telling only the candid and captivating account of the life of Steven Paul Jobs.
'In Cold Blood' murderers investigated in Florida
The Florida murder of two parents and two children remains unsolved
Linking long-dead killers to unsolved homicides is becoming more common
Some authorities want investigators in other states to submit DNA from old crime scenes
December 4. 2012 - OSPREY, Fla. (AP) — At the end of 1959, two families of four — one in Kansas, the other in Florida — were brutally murdered.
Two men were arrested, charged and executed in the Kansas case, and writer Truman Capote captured the horrific tale in his iconic true crime novel, "In Cold Blood."
The Florida murder of two parents and two children was investigated by dozens of detectives over the years, but it remained unsolved. Now, a detective is trying to prove that the men who were executed in Kansas were also responsible for the Florida slayings.
"It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," said Sarasota County Sheriff's detective Kimberly McGath, who began re-investigating the murders of Cliff and Christine Walker and their two young children in 2007.
McGath said there is evidence that points to two men who are now in a Kansas cemetery for executed prisoners: Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.
DNA recovered from semen found on Christine Walker's underwear could be compared to the remains of Smith and Hickock, said McGath. She is working with Kansas authorities to petition a judge there to approve exhuming the bodies of the two men.
Linking long-dead killers to unsolved homicides is becoming more common.
In Chicago, the Cook County Sheriff's Department is trying to find out whether serial killer John Wayne Gacy could be responsible for any more deaths. Officials there are entering murderers' DNA profiles into a national database shared with other law-enforcement agencies. The move is based on an ironic legal distinction: The men were technically listed as homicide victims themselves because they were put to death by the state.
Authorities hope to find DNA matches from blood, semen, hair or skin under victims' fingernails that link the long-dead killers to the coldest of cold cases. And they want investigators in other states to follow suit and submit the DNA of their own executed inmates or from decades-old crime scenes.
Kansas officials said this week they have talked with Florida detectives and would continue to help if the Florida detectives file an exhumation petition in court.
Hickock and Smith are buried on a gently sloping hill at the Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing, Kan. The state of Kansas interred its executed criminals there when their families didn't claim the bodies. There are about 28,000 graves.
Cemetery manager Gene Kirby said the Hickock and Smith graves regularly draw visitors, particularly around the anniversary of the Clutter slayings or when "In Cold Blood" receives media attention.
"We have a fair amount of people come out and ask where they're buried, want to come down and actually see the graves," Kirby said. "If there's anything in the news that kind of piques the interest."
The possibility that the pair was involved in the Florida murderers has been considered since 1960, according to records released by the Sarasota Sheriff's Office.
After Smith and Hickock killed the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, on Nov. 15, 1959, they fled to Florida in a stolen car. They were spotted at least a dozen times from Tallahassee to Miami and points in between. On Dec. 18, the two men checked into a Miami Beach motel and checked out the next day.
The Walker family, who lived in the small community of Osprey on a ranch some four hours northwest of Miami near Sarasota, was killed on Dec. 19. Cliff Walker was shot to death, his wife was beaten, raped and then shot. Three-year-old Jimmie was shot to death and his 2-year-old sister was shot and drowned in a bathtub.
That same day, the men bought items at a Sarasota department store. On Dec. 21, witnesses say they spoke with Smith and Hickock in Tallahassee.
McGath said that there's evidence that extends beyond the duo's road trip. Before their death, the Walkers were considering buying a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, which was the kind of car Smith and Hickock had stolen and were driving through Florida. McGath thinks that somehow, the Walkers and the killers met because of the car.
The detective found witness statements — and talked to people who are still alive — who said they saw Smith and Hickock in the Sarasota area around the time of the Walker murders. One witness said the taller of the two men had a scratched-up face.
The pair was later arrested in Las Vegas and a polygraph test cleared them of the Walker murders. But in 1987, a polygraph expert said those tests in the early 1960s were worthless.
Authorities said the Walkers still have some living relatives both in and outside of Florida but declined to give names. McGath has been the one leading the effort to find their killers.
She hopes the DNA will prove that Smith and Hickock killed the Walker family so the community can have closure, and so the dozens of people falsely accused over the years as suspects in the case can finally have peace of mind.
Kirby said it's likely that only bones remain in the Kansas coffins.
"In this case, it's going to require a backhoe," he said. "Especially with the drought we had this year, the ground is going to be extremely hard."
Kirby hopes that if an exhumation occurs, officials will be able to get the material they need by simply opening the coffin on site, without full removal. He was also concerned about the timing of any exhumation, because relatives visit other graves and decorate them around Christmas.
'Socialism' and 'Capitalism' named 'most looked-up' words of 2012
Merriam-Webster dictionary announced Wednesday morning for the first time the pair 'Socialism' and 'Capitalism' has been named as words of the year. Also mentioned, 'malarkey' as used by Vice President Joe Biden during a tangle at a debate with Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan.
Leanne Italie, Associated Press / December 5, 2012
Thanks to the election, socialism and capitalism are forever wed as Merriam-Webster's most looked-up words of 2012.
Traffic for the unlikely pair on the company's website about doubled this year from the year before as the health care debate heated up and discussion intensified over "American capitalism" versus "European socialism," said the editor at large, Peter Sokolowski.
The choice revealed Wednesday was "kind of a no-brainer," he said. The side-by-side interest among political candidates and around kitchen tables prompted the dictionary folk to settle on two words of the year rather than one for the first time since the accolade began in 2003.
"They're words that sort of encapsulate the zeitgeist. They're words that are in the national conversation," said Sokolowski from company headquarters in Springfield, Mass. "The thing about an election year is it generates a huge amount of very specific interest."
Democracy, globalization, marriage and bigot — all touched by politics — made the Top 10, in no particular order. The latter two were driven in part by the fight for same-sex marriage acceptance.
Last year's word of the year was austerity. Before that, it was pragmatic. Other words in the leading dictionarymaker's Top 10 for 2012 were also politically motivated.
Harken back to Oct. 11, when Vice President Joe Biden tangled with Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan in a televised debate focused on foreign policy — terror attacks, defense spending and war, to be specific.
"With all due respect, that's a bunch of MALARKEY," declared Biden during a particularly tough row with Ryan. The mention sent look-ups of malarkey soaring on Merriam-webster.com, Sokolowski said, adding: "Clearly a one-week wonder, but what a week!"
Actually, it was more like what a day. Look-ups of malarkey represented the largest spike of a single word on the website by percentage, at 3,000 percent, in a single 24-hour period this year. The company won't release the number of page views per word but said the site gets about 1.2 billion overall each year.
Malarkey, with the alternative spelling of "y'' at the end, is of unknown origin, but Merriam-Webster surmises it's more Irish-American than Irish, tracing it to newspaper references as far back as 1929.
Beyond "nonsense," malarkey can mean "insincere or pretentious talk or writing designed to impress one and usually to distract attention from ulterior motives or actual conditions," noted Sokolowski.
"That's exactly what Joe Biden was saying. Very precise," especially in conversation with another Irish-American, Sokolowski said. "He chose a word that resonated with the public, I think in part because it really resonated with him. It made perfect sense for this man to use this word in this moment."
An interesting election-related phenom, to be sure, but malarkey is no dead Big Bird or "binders full of women" — two Romneyisms from the defeated candidate's televised matchups with Obama that evoked another of Merriam-Webster's Top 10 — meme.
While malarkey's history is shaded, meme's roots are easily traced to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a Brit who coined the term for a unit of cultural inheritance, not unlike genes and DNA. The retired professor at the University of Oxford made up the word in 1976 for "The Selfish Gene," a book he published light years before the Internet and social media's capacity to take memes viral.
Sokolowski said traffic for meme more than doubled this year over 2011, with dramatic spikes pegged to political-related subjects that included Romney's Big Bird and binders remarks, social media shares of images pegged to Hillary Clinton texting and Obama's "horses and bayonets" debate rebuke of Romney in an exchange over the size of the Navy.
Dawkins, reached at home in Oxford, was tickled by the dictionary shoutout.
"I'm very pleased that it's one of the 10 words that got picked out," he said. "I'm delighted. I hope it may bring more people to understand something about evolution."
The book in which he used meme for the first time is mostly about the gene as the primary unit of natural selection, or the Darwinian idea that only the strongest survive. In the last chapter, he said, he wanted to describe some sort of cultural replicator.
And he wanted a word that sounded like "gene," so he took a twist on the Greek mimeme, which is the origin of "mime" and "mimesis," a scientific term meaning imitation.
"It's a very clever coinage," lauded the lexicographer Sokolowski.
Test your grammar 'smarts' with our quiz!
Other words in Merriam-Webster's Top 10 for 2012:
— Touche, thanks in part to "Survivor" contestant Kat Edorsson misusing the word to mean "tough luck" rather than point well made, before she was voted off the island in May. Look-ups at Merriam-webster.com were up sevenfold this year over 2011.
— Schadenfreude, made up of the German words for "damage" and "joy," meaning taking pleasure in the misery of others, was used broadly in the media after the election. Look-ups increased 75 percent. The word in English dates to 1895.
— Professionalism, up 12 percent this year over last. Sokolowski suspects the bump might have been due to the bad economy and more job seekers, or a knowing "glimpse into what qualities people value."
‘Nothing’ funny in top show
DAVID K. LI
December 4, 2012
Jerry Seinfeld is master of his comedy domain.
“Seinfeld” was voted the nation’s funniest sitcom of all time, edging out the 1950s black-and-white classic “The Honeymooners,” according to survey results published yesterday.
The long-running NBC hit series “Seinfeld” — self-described as being “about nothing” — picked up 22 percent of respondents’ votes in the poll commissioned by “60 Minutes” and Vanity Fair magazine.
Close behind was Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners,” with 20 percent, “Friends,” at 16 percent, and “Cheers,” at 14 percent.
Fox’s critically acclaimed “Arrested Development” garnered 7 percent, and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” scored 6 percent.
The most popular current show — “30 Rock,” featuring “Saturday Night Live” alum Tina Fey — picked up 5 percent.
“Seinfeld,” the comedy brainchild of funny men Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, produced 180 episodes between 1989 and 1998.
“Seinfeld” seems to run nonstop — in syndication on TBS, and locally on Channel 11. The show’s classic episodes are still water-cooler talk now, more than a decade later.
“Seinfeld’s” famed Nov. 18, 1992, “The Contest” is one of comedy’s most revered episodes because it was all about masturbation — but the word was never used. Instead the cheeky euphemism “master of my domain” served as the episode’s punch line.