‘Spies in casinos’ shock


So far as casual observers can see, China’s leadership has had three reservations about Macau’s post-1999 Mainlander-oriented gambling industry.

First is that access to the casinos facilitates and encourages moral lapses among Chinese officials, by giving corrupt individuals the means to launder dirty cash and by tempting them to acquire illicit funds with which to gamble. (Interesting how Macau gambling and Mainland corruption stimulate each other.)

Second is simply a mercantilist concern about the currency outflow and the feeling that this is money that could stay in the Mainland and benefit local economies. (Hence occasional calls for casinos to be legalized in Hainan and other provinces.)

Third is nationalistic resentment at the way American casino operators scoop up much of the profits. The Hong Kong and other ethnic Chinese gambling/hotel interests have obvious reasons to encourage this sentiment. And bearing that in mind…

A fourth now comes to light: fears that American-owned casinos serve as fronts for US influence in Macau, and host CIA agents who target Mainland officials for blackmail. The Standard has a quick summary here; EJ has a fuller one.  The story itself is in the Guardian, which managed to obtain a document submitted as part of an unfair dismissal case in Nevada against casino operator Sands. The document was a report commissioned by Sands to investigate possible political problems the company was facing as it tried to expand in Macau. The Guardian presents the Vickers Report, as it is known, here.


The report dates from 2010, before Xi Jinping’s rise to the top and the launch of the anti-corruption campaign that has hit the Macau gambling sector quite hard. Much of it covers the background of Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on (rich family, trusted by Communist Party, etc). But it also suggests that Beijing viewed Sands in particular as pretty much intertwined with US government interests.

The suspicions about the CIA are not very surprising: casinos probably offer spooks excellent ‘asset-recruitment’ opportunities. What is more telling is the apparently instinctive paranoia among Chinese officials about foreigners and their motives. If the report is accurate, they see the US government and US companies as indistinguishable in terms of national security risk. In other words, Sands’ lust for more market share and more profit was interpreted in Beijing as an attempt by Washington to undermine Chinese sovereignty in Macau. This was five years ago under Hu Jintao; it can only be worse now.


Of course, Macau’s local casino owners would have a big interest in encouraging this sort of paranoia among Chinese officials. The report seems to conclude with mention of aging mogul Stanley Ho, but, disappointingly, that last page is blacked out. However, the investigative agency that wrote it, Hong Kong-based Steve Vickers Associates, have recently mentioned that nationalism could affect prospects for foreign-owned casinos in Macau.


The other noteworthy thing about the report is a linguistic quirk. Where most of us would write ‘Bob bent over to tie his shoelaces’, the report says ‘Bob bent over; this to tie his shoelaces’. If it was just once, we wouldn’t notice – but this curious construction appears on nearly every page.

As it happens, Sands boss Sheldon Adelson and President Obama are not best buddies, but that’s probably by the by.


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13 Responses to ‘Spies in casinos’ shock

  1. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    These sort of examples of CCP fears arising from them asking themselves “what would we do if we were in their shoes?” is very illustrative of what they are likely to do in their own CCP shoes.

    And so let’s hope Huawei doesn’t start winning contracts anywhere that matters outside of China.

  2. LRE says:

    I recently visited a mega casino in Macao, and to be fair to the Chinese Cowering Paranoiacs Chinese Communist Party, the underground staff corridors do have a serious Bond villain secret volcano lair aspect to them. Add that to fact that US Casinos are traditionally mafia concerns and the mafia have a long history of CIA collusion (Operation Gladio, Cuba and pushing product for Air America et al to name a few), and you can see how it would seem obvious if you were, like the CCP is, several miles over the insanity horizon and accelerating.

    I suppose it doesn’t help that the last Bond movie had 007 hanging around a Macao casino.

    But the CCP are also afraid of lawyers trying to affect the outcome of court cases, the stock market acting like a market, performance artists, women’s rights activists, tourists who watch documentaries about the places they’re visiting, very small rocks and their own shadows. They’re also convinced they’re being watched by a 12-foot long giant hedgehog called “Spiny Norman”.

  3. PD says:

    “If the report is accurate, they see the US government and US companies as indistinguishable in terms of national security risk”: to understand China, it is helpful to look at its paranoid accusations, since they unwittingly reveal its own behaviour and attitudes.

    There is no separation of powers; and government agencies, like the Army, indulge in shady commercial activities. “Pigging yourself at the trough is glorious” (my own translation), that is corruption is inherent to the system. So much the better if you can get the better of a few evil foreigners at the same time.

  4. The CIA would have to be pretty stupid not to have agents in Macau casinos. No surprise there.

  5. Joe Blow says:

    Steve Wynn’s start in the casino business was as a front man for an East Coast mob outfit. It’s well documented despite his later efforts to downplay the connection. Chances are they still receive their monthly skim.

  6. gweiloeye says:

    I’m sure the casinos are a hot bed of spooks but there is probably more than just CIA and are more than likely there to just get drunk and lose their folding stuff. Also i would think they might be a bit obvious. Last time in the Sands I was the only Gweilo as far as the eye could see.
    CCP needs a good dose of anti psychotics and stop jumping at shadows.

  7. Cassowary says:

    They’ve just hacked all the information on every US federal employee, including security clearances and blackmail material. If they can’t identify the spooks in Macau after that, they’re either lying or incompetent.

  8. Knownot says:

    gweiloeye: “Also i would think they might be a bit obvious. Last time in the Sands I was the only Gweilo as far as the eye could see.”

    They recruit ethnic Chinese agents.

    That Chinese-American cutie – with the lovely accent which evoked both Shanghai and San Francisco – who made friends with you, not when you were winning, but when you were losing – what did you tell her?

  9. Probably says:

    These days the CIA spooks are Chinese fluent US citizens who get sojourned in deepest China to monitor web activity from inside the great firewall. Whilst some “James Bond” stuff may or may not go on in the casinos there is more to be found out from personal internet activity.

    After the recent data incursion the spooks all had to skidaddle PDQ.

  10. delboy says:

    A well place source told me that the FBI made very casual inquiries with the Macau government so see if they would consider deporting one of their own citizen’s whose wanted in america for questioning by the justice department.

    Sheldon Adelson apparently.

  11. Chinese Netizen says:

    @delboy: nah…Sheldon likes to do his hiding out and controlling of Republican Party politics in Israel. Like a true patriot.

  12. oldgit says:

    And the story from Spain is that when the waiter turns up with the bill after a 25 year long lunch, the head of table says Jeez is it that much? I had no idea and here’s the problem: I have left my cheque book in France and they have gone and impounded it because of a wine bill the swine. So, can we just carry on same as before?

  13. Laguna Lurker says:

    I’ve known a couple of CIA operatives and one of them told me that casinos are indeed favoured locations for recruiting. Those who lose heavily can often be persuaded to provide information if an offer to compensate their losses is made. Then, of course, there is the tried and true “honey trap”. Those leggy Russian-American blondes who hang around the Macau casinos are not there just to pick up a casual trick or two.

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