MACAU (Reuters) - Macau police are investigating alleged fraud involving one of the gambling hub's biggest junket operators after the company said an ex-employee had stolen money from investors, the latest incident to hit an industry reeling from a slump in revenues.
The crime, which involved junket operator Dore Holdings, has triggered daily protests by its investors and calls by lawmakers for increased scrutiny of the opaque junket system amid a wider crackdown on corruption and illicit transactions.
The junket system lets companies or individuals loan credit to gamblers, mainly VIPs, on behalf of Macau's casinos.
These VIP gamblers accounted for over 70 percent of monthly gaming revenues at the start of 2014, but this amount has now slipped to around half, with several junket businesses shutting down. Analysts estimate the number of junket tables has fallen by up to 20 percent since the start of this year.
Dore Holdings operates three rooms for VIP gamblers in the Wynn Macau casino. The company has said it was a victim of fraud, after the former employee raised funds from investors in its name, and then stole the money.
Dore has refused to pay back investors and frozen its accounts to prevent them from taking funds out of the company.
Police have said that based on investors' claims, the fraud amounted to at least HK$300 million ($39 million). A spokesman said the investigation was ongoing.
Macau's junket operators and VIP gambling industry have come under increased scrutiny from authorities due to Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign which has targeted the flight of illicit capital from the country.
Gambling revenue in Macau has plummeted for the past year and the junket business, which relies on middle men to bring in gamblers from mainland China, extending them credit and collecting debts from them, has taken an extra beating.
Macau lawmaker Jose Coutinho told Reuters the crimes related to junkets were damaging Macau's reputation, particularly as other Asian casino hubs pull out all the stops to attract wealthy gamblers.
"The government needs to oversee the system better, there is a lack of supervision on the issue," he told Reuters.
The Macau authorities have vowed to improve the relevant laws and regulations, without giving details. ($1 = 7.7500 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Miral Fahmy)