Southeast Asian Casinos Are A Hotspot for Organized Crime
Southeast Asia has become a breeding ground for organized criminals who use casinos and other gambling establishments in the region as a channel for their illicit activities.
Money laundering, bribery and drug trafficking have grown to such an alarming extent that the US Treasury Department sanctioned the Kings Romans Casino in Laos and its owner Zhao Wei in Jan 2018. The sanctions were imposed for their alleged involvement in several serious crimes, with the latter denying the allegations.
Zhao has been tagged as the leader of a transnational criminal organization involved in horrendous illegal activities, including human and wildlife trafficking, perpetrated through the Laotian casino. Kings Romans is located within the Golden Triangle border area, close to Myanmar and Thailand, a lawless strategic location reported to be the source of illegal drugs distributed across the region.
Casinos Boom In South East Asia
One year on, Zhao seems to be unfazed by the sanctions, with Kings Romans still very much in business and is actually in expansion mode. A massive new development located behind the casino is currently under construction.
Around 230 casinos are currently operating in Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines, and that number is expected to rise in the coming years. In Cambodia alone, the number of casino establishments rose by 53% in 2018.
Macau Crackdown Boosts Crime In SE Asia
Macau, the biggest gambling hub in the world launched a massive crackdown on its casino industry in 2015 and 2016. The crackdown caused Macau’s casinos to lose over $100 billion in revenue as high rollers and shady characters left the market to look for new waters.
It was during this period mainly that dozens of casinos suspected of having links with criminal gangs transferred to Southeast Asian countries where there is limited oversight and minimal regulation. Casino operators can easily obtain licenses with little to no supervision. Many establishments are popping out along border and coastal lines where immigration checks are either weak or non-existent. These casinos are doing well under governments with questionable capability and integrity.
Most of these criminal gangs and drug cartels use these casinos in SE Asia as a front to wash money and carry out their illegal activities. While the casino industry is boosting both tourism and the government budget, it is also causing a lot of harm in the region. It is high time that the authorities in these countries turn up the heat just like Macau did a few years ago.