Naming and shaming: Macau website targets deadbeat gamblers

HONG KONG - Hustler, cheater, robber, rogue.

Gamblers who skip out on casino debts in Macau risk being branded with these monikers and having personal details made public by a website that says it has helped to recover 50 million yuan (S$10.2 million) so far.

But the novel strategy to combat bad debts in the world's largest gambling destination is under scrutiny from the police for possibly breaking the law and from the Chinese territory's gaming authority over privacy concerns.

The bilingual website, called Wonderful World in English, features a blacklist of more than 70 people from across China who it says have failed to repay gambling debts ranging from thousands to millions of yuan.

Photographs of alleged deadbeats, along with their date of birth and marital status, are displayed prominently. A bounty is often offered for help in tracking them down.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony and the only place in China where casinos are allowed, raked in $38 billion in gaming revenues last year, with 70 per cent of that coming from the lucrative VIP sector.

Collecting gambling debts is illegal in China, which makes Macau's 35 casinos heavily reliant on junkets - companies or agents that lure high rollers - to settle any debts. The top junkets are sprawling conglomerates with thousands of employees and deep pockets that allow them to lend millions to gamblers.

In one entry on the site, a young man from northern China is alleged to owe tens of millions of yuan from a loan dating back to 2011. The photo shows him wearing glasses and a blue shirt as he drives a car. His occupation is listed as "idling away his time" and his hobbies as "eating, being merry and gambling".

He was given a danger rating of 95 per cent, meaning the likelihood that he will not repay his debts. The danger levels of other alleged debtors range from 90 per cent to 100 per cent.

Macau is not alone. The two casinos in Singapore, also a popular destination for Chinese gamblers, have had problems with high rollers who have been given large lines of credit and then left the country without paying their debts.

Free site

Wonderful World was launched a year ago as a news and entertainment site, but began the blacklist of gamblers two months ago on the suggestion of a friend, an administrator who gave his name as Mr. Teng told Reuters.

The personal information is provided by the creditors. The site does not charge for the postings, take a cut of recovered money or work in conjunction with Macau's junkets or casino operators, Teng said.

While the site is a good way to track down minor deadbeats, it is unlikely to be used much by big junkets who deal in larger volumes and have extensive connections and knowledge of debtors' assets, said a Macau-based junket agent.

The police are investigating the site and assembling an internal report, a spokeswoman said, declining further comment.

Teng said Wonderful World's operators are cooperating with the police and are keen to continue providing the free platform.

"The most important thing is we want more people to see our website," he said.