Triads in Macau

3 years ago
The Macau Triads
16:48
21 Mar

It has long been suspected that Chinese Triad gangs and the gambling oasis of Macau have gone hand-in-hand over the years, but now a report published in the British Journal of Criminology has added academic weight to what many have ‘known’ for decades.

A two-and-a-half-year investigation by T. Wing Lo and Sharon Ingrid Kwok has concluded that:

New forms of betting and crime have emerged to meet the needs of high-end gamblers, thus resulting in the formation of a triad-enterprise hybrid that comprises territoriality and a reputation of violence.”


The phrase ‘no shit, Sherlock’ springs to mind, but the City of Hong Kong University-funded study has used interviews with triads, casino operators, local police, and other sources to give us a wider picture of how the triads operate.

As reported by PokerTube late last year, the former Portuguese colony was, until being handed over to the Chinese in 1999, “a hot-bed of Triad activity, with bombings, shootings, stabbings and all manner of attacks occurring on a regular basis – and not only aimed against other Triad gangs from China trying to muscle in on the small enclave; prosecutors, policemen and the judiciary were all targets.”

Since changing hands at the turn of the century, foreign investment and the decline of the gambling magnate Stanley Ho combined to break up the monopoly of gang violence and control of the casinos.

Additionally, in recent years the Chinese president Xi Jinping has cracked down on many of the activities from the Chinese mainland side which allows the Triad gangs to be so heavily involved: money-laundering, debt enforcement and various other illegal activities.


Still, according to the Lo and Kwok report:

The Chinese criminal underworld is evolving along two paths: structural and territorial-based triads and criminal groups formed by entrepreneurs. The present study used triad involvement in casino VIP rooms to examine how these two paths cross after China resumed sovereignty of Macau in 1999,” state the researchers, adding that, “It was found that although the current operations of the junket business is determined by the external business environment in mainland China, triads continue to treat the VIP rooms as economic territories.”

What this means, in essence, is that the massive-revenue spinners of VIP junkets from the mainland to Macao are changing based on Chinese and wider world economic values - but in practical terms the hotels and junkets are still considered by the gangs to be under their control.

The junkets themselves are organised along fairly standard lines. High-end gamblers from China need to visit Macao to indulge their passions and/or addictions. Because they are extremely limited as to how much money they can leave the mainland with, junket operators ‘front’ the cash for gambling and add in every luxury imaginable. Whatever winnings or losses the Chinese high-rollers finish their trip with are paid for back in China.


This is where the Triads come to the forefront of operations. With ridiculous amounts of ‘illegal’ money being recovered back in China –which obviously has to be ‘laundered’ – there come the ‘associated’ businesses of drugs, prostitution, people-trafficking, as well as the assaults and murders which accompany such ‘industries’.

However, the Chinese crackdown on such activities has affected the triad methods of operation – as has the US-led financing of massive casinos which are trying to avoid the VIP junket-style focus and the problems which go with it.

Last year’s Guardian investigation - in conjunction with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley – reported that:

Within Macau, the fightback (against the traditional Triad-led gambling scene) relies on reshaping the industry as a resort with more than gambling going on – much like modern Vegas. On one side, there’s the marketing muscle and internal reforms of the US casino groups… On the other lie the remaining junket operators and the triad groups who have grown rich through Macau’s web of vice, connections, and black-market money.”


This is reflected in the most recent study released last week.

The VIP room operations are still dominated by Triads to date,” state the authors, who also point out that it is not only the US and Chinese government who are changing with the times, adding “but they [the Triads] have readjusted their traditional role and reinvented harmonious business strategies to suit the market reality.

According to the South China Morning Post:

The Triads are now also forced to work beyond Macau’s borders, collaborating with mainland officials and syndicates.”

They report that rapid economic growth in the mainland is responsible for the studies finding that:

This has induced the triads to move away from the rigid territorial base in Macau to develop flexible, social and entrepreneurial networks with mainland officials, junkets, whales [high rollers], investors, and criminals.”


The Hong Kong university’s report, entitled Triad Organised Crime in Macau Casinos: Extra-legal Governance and Entrepreneurship, includes 17 interviews with various figures connected to the triad/junket/casino industry.

Not surprisingly, casino management figures have denied the connections with the Triad gangs, but one former VIP contractor is quoted as saying:

We were given the chance to run a VIP room because my brother-in-law had a reputation in the triad underworld.”

A member of the powerful 14K Triad, who was also interviewed for the study, claimed that the majority of VIP-room contractors “are triads or businessmen with a triad background,” adding:

The casino management would select the most powerful triads, based on a couple of factors including money, triad, reputation, and ability to mobilise manpower”.


The Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau in Macau denied such involvement, telling news agency Lusa that "So far we have not verified any triads selected by casinos or working with junkets,” and claiming that they would take “appropriate measures” if any such were discovered.


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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more

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