Attack Raises Fears of a New Gang War in Macau
By KEITH BRADSHER and NEIL GOUGH
Published: June 27, 2012
MACAU — A senior figure in Macau’s gambling industry was severely beaten by six men in a restaurant at his own casino, the highest-profile case of violence in the city’s booming gambling business since Portugal handed control of the former colony back to China in 1999.
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Dennis Owen/Bloomberg News
Ng Man-sun, a Macau casino investor, in 2005. He was attacked by six men over the weekend.
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It was a brazen act recalling the rampant gang warfare that gripped Macau in the late 1990s — before the more recent arrival of Las Vegas casino developers like Sheldon G. Adelson and Steve Wynn and their billions of dollars in investments. The weekend assault against the gambling industry figure, Ng Man-sun, a casino hotel investor, bore the signs of a textbook attack by triads, or Chinese criminal societies, experts and analysts said on Wednesday.
The episode serves as a reminder that Macau’s bad old days are not so far behind it. The Las Vegas Sands, owned by Mr. Adelson; Wynn Resorts; and MGM Resorts International have poured more than $10 billion into building Las Vegas-style resorts here in recent years, helping its economy more than triple in size since 2004, when the first foreign-owned property was opened. By last year, Macau’s casino revenue had soared to almost $34 billion, more than five times that of the Las Vegas Strip.
But little more than a decade ago — when the city’s casinos were still under the four-decade monopoly of the gambling magnate Stanley Ho — triad murders, bombings and other attacks were so common that a senior police official once tried to reassure tourists by announcing that Macau had “professional killers who don’t miss their targets.”
That violent period resonated this week with the attack on Mr. Ng, who is widely known in Macau and Hong Kong as Ng Wai and Street Market Wai. Mr. Ng has been an investor in the Greek Mythology Casino, which is part of the New Century Hotel on Taipa Island in Macau, through his controlling stake in Amax Holdings, a firm listed in Hong Kong.
Mr. Ng, 65, was having dinner in a restaurant of the hotel late on Sunday night with an unidentified woman in her 30s when six men rushed in and proceeded to beat the couple with hammers and sticks, according to news reports in Macau on Tuesday. The reports said that Mr. Ng’s arms and legs were badly hurt but that the attackers had avoided hitting him on the head.
Suen Kam-fai, the chief of the Judiciary Police’s anti-money-laundering division, said Wednesday that a man with the surname Ng had been attacked and wounded on Taipa Island on Sunday, adding that the case had been referred to the police agency’s investigations unit. Associates confirmed Wednesday that the victim was Ng Man-sun, and said he was recovering in a hospital in Macau.
The woman was not badly hurt and was treated at a hospital and released.
A spokeswoman for Amax, Mr. Ng’s firm, declined to comment on Wednesday.
The New Century Hotel was the target of an attack in July 1997, during the years of gang warfare in Macau. Unidentified assailants sprayed the facade of the hotel with gunfire and wounded several security guards. No arrests were made.
At the time, Mr. Ng was in a public rivalry with one of Macau’s most notorious gangsters, Wan Kuok-koi, widely known as Broken Tooth. In a rare interview with Time magazine in April 1998, Mr. Wan spoke extensively of that rivalry, saying of Mr. Ng that “fate will not be kind to him” and pledging a “beautiful war.”
“I’m going to wipe him out,” Mr. Wan said, according to the magazine.
Mr. Wan was arrested in 1998 and convicted of triad gang membership, money laundering and loan sharking, among other crimes. Mr. Wan is scheduled to be released in December.
Mr. Ng, and previously Mr. Wan, are among thousands of gambling junket agents and so-called V.I.P. room operators in Macau. Junket agents bring high rollers to casino V.I.P. rooms, issue them credit and collect their gambling debts in exchange for a commission from the casino operator.
Their services are popular among Macau’s casino operators because the city relies heavily on players from mainland China, where gambling is illegal and the courts do not recognize casino debts. So these debts are often collected by extrajudicial means.
“The junket operators operate on a knife edge, and any ‘disturbance’ in the daily course of business can set off a war between them,” said Steve Vickers, a former commander of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau who now runs a business intelligence and risk organization in Hong Kong.
Others said the attack against Mr. Ng could catch the attention of foreign gambling regulators, including those in Nevada, who are charged with monitoring the overseas casino operations of their licensees.
Analysts say that junket operators are responsible for most of the activity in the Macau’s gambling industry’s high-roller segment, which accounted for $25 billion in casino revenue last year. But the market has cooled recently.
“If you add everything up — a slowing market, Broken Tooth possibly coming back in — people may be scared there could be another round of violence,” one gambling analyst said of the attack on Mr. Ng, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter. “But I don’t think the Chinese government would let that kind of thing happen. They will make sure everyone has enough business and stays cool.”
Since the attack was carried out by several assailants who did not use knives and did not appear to be trying to kill the victim, it bore the classic marks of a triad warning, experts said.
“An attack like this may be designed to send a message and do violence to his reputation,” said Roderic Broadhurst, a professor and criminology expert at Australian National University. “The fact that it took place in his own property is highly symbolic.”
Mr. Ng was involved in a number of recent financial disputes in Macau’s gambling industry, according to one associate who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The associate said they included a falling out with a former girlfriend and business partner, Chen Mei Huan, over control of the casino business.
“He has so many opponents and enemies that you don’t know who could be behind this, and I don’t want to guess,” the associate said.
Keith Bradsher reported from Macau, and Neil Gough from Hong Kong. Hilda Wang contributed reporting from Hong Kong.