One of Asia’s most influential gaming industry figures has been forced to flee the Philippines after becoming a prime target of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs and gambling.
Head of state Duterte ordered Jack Lam Yin-lok – chairman of Hong Kong stock exchange-listed Jimei International Entertainment Group Limited – be arrested if he attempts to enter the Philippines, where he faces allegations of economic sabotage and high level bribery.
The dramatic and unusual presidential order – understood to have been issued after Lam left the Philippines on November 29 for an unknown destination – followed the arrest of more than 1,300 Chinese nationals at his Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, the former United States air force base.
Those arrested are accused of working illegally for an online gaming operation run by the Macau-based Hong Kong resident Lam. Philippines gaming regulators have since closed Lam’s Clark operation and the Fort Ilocandia Casino, which is also operated by the Jimei Group.
Information from gaming insiders that Lam had travelled to Macau on leaving the Philippines could not be immediately confirmed by the South China Morning Post.
Trading in Jimei shares was halted on Monday. In a statement released on Tuesday, the company said: “The board of directors of the company has noted recent press articles relating to alleged bribery and economic sabotage by a director and the controlling shareholder of the company and the issue of order of arrest.
“The articles relate to alleged involvement by Dr Lam Yin Lok, an executive director and controlling shareholder of the company in economic sabotage in the Philippines and bribery.
“The company clarifies that the gaming operations cited do not form part of the group’s business. The board confirms that the incident mentioned in the articles relate to Dr. Lam and is his own personal matter and in no way materially affects or involves the company and its subsidiaries, nor is it expected to affect the normal business operation of the group nor any other current or future plans.”
The company added that as far as it was aware, Lam had not been held by the Philippine authorities.
Duterte ordered Lam’s arrest on December 3 amid contested allegations that he tried to bribe Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and the head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Andrea Domingo, to release the more than 1,300 Chinese nationals arrested November 24.
According to local media reports in the Philippines, Lam left the country on November 29.
The casino was temporarily closed “pending the investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) of illegal or unlicensed online gaming operations and employment of aliens without proper permits, which is a violation of the anti-illegal gambling, labor and immigration laws”.
Requests for comment from Lam, Jimei and Lam’s lawyer in the Philippines, Raymond Fortun have not yet been responded to.
Jack Lam is one of the largest VIP junket operators in Asia and Jimei is key to the fortunes of two of the city’s most important gaming companies, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Macau. The players he has brought to Macau are some of the biggest “whales” in the business.
In addition to junket services, Jimei operates two casino cruise ships – the M.V. Jimei, out of Hong Kong, and Xiang Xue Lan, with routes between China and South Korea. The company opened its first casino in Macau in early 2009, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Lam is also a member of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.