Secretive gaming directive might fall outside the law

The gaming regulator has formally instructed local casino operators and junkets not to transfer “gaming-related information” to any third parties without first obtaining approval from the Macau authority. Contained within a secret – possibly extralegal – document still not disclosed to the public, the directive (from the Portuguese technical term, instrução) effectively grants the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) the power to screen all casino-related information intended for transfer.

First reported by Macau Business, which obtained access to the document over the weekend, the directive appears to have been sent to Macau-based gaming concessions, sub-concessions and junket operators.

A representative of the DICJ confirmed to the Times that the instruction came into effect on Monday, September 23, but indicated that it was not being made public.

“In accordance with the relevant requirements of the existing regulatory authorities, the Macau SAR has the authority to supervise the operation of the industry by issuing guidelines to the gaming industry,” the DICJ wrote in a note to the Times. “The purpose of the instruction is to ensure that the transfer of gaming-related information between the gaming companies and the gaming promoters is in compliance with the laws of Macau, in particular the gambling laws, anti-money laundering laws and other regulations, thereby safeguarding the healthy development of the gaming industry.”

Macau lawyer Rui Proença, who has a professional interest in data privacy issues, said that it was difficult to comment in precise terms without access to the document. However, based on the information currently obtained via the media, he noted that his first impression was that the directive would be “transformational in how the operators transfer data and who can access that data.”

But the use of the term “gaming-
related information” suggests a broader scope than “personal data.”

For analyst Ben Lee, managing partner at IGamiX Management & Consulting, the exact purpose of the directive remains unclear. Lee speculated that it might have been designed to protect sensitive individuals with connections to important Chinese political or business leaders from being linked to Macau.

“I am speculating that it has something to do with the recent 60 Minutes Australian news program, which alleged that sensitive individuals were connected to the casino business,” he said, referring to a particular broadcast in late July. Lee was featured on the 60 Minutes news program, which exposed links between Australia’s Crown Resorts and Asian crime syndicates with access to Chinese high-rollers.

“It might be to prevent information [on these people] from being sent overseas,” said Lee, adding that in this sense it was “more applicable to the U.S. operators than the Chinese ones.”

The Macau regulator has denied it seeks to prevent the transfer of information under normal circumstances. It said that the new directive would not infringe on the legal rights of companies and individuals in Macau.

“The relevant guidelines do not completely prohibit […] the transfer of gambling-related information, but only require that they must obtain permission from the DICJ before they can transfer it,” said the regulator in its written communication. “If the relevant information on the transfer of gambling is analyzed to be legal and reasonable, the DICJ will grant permission, so there is no restriction on the exercise of statutory rights.”

Speaking to the Times yesterday, lawyer Jorge Menezes appeared to disagree.

Stressing that his legal opinion was based solely on the available media reports and not on the directive itself, the Macau-based lawyer said that “restrictions on access to data of concessionaires or sub-concessionaires can only be set out by law approved by the Legislative Assembly.”

“Access to information of public entities – and gaming operators are under the same legal regime – is a fundamental right that can only be limited by law and there are court decisions confirming this.” Menezes added that “the DICJ has already been defeated in several access of information court cases.”

“Apart from being most likely illegal, it sets a poor standard for the transparency required in gaming activities,” said Menezes. “The industry will not thrive by having gaming activities and operations carried out in an opaque manner. Transparency and public accountability should play a fundamental role in a successful gaming industry, particularly when suspicions of criminal activities have been raised.”

Categories Macau