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telebetting, for example. Policing is by Chinese guards employed by the zone’s mainland investors.

Second home

Most strikingly, inside the casinos, it could be the mainland. Everyone speaks Mandarin, the food is Chinese. Everything for sale, from cigarettes to sex, comes from the mainland and is paid for in renminbi. It sounds like a nightmare realised for Macau. But

the casinos at Boten and Ton Pheung, like their predecessors on the frontiers with Cambodia and Burma, face substantial challenges, some of which management can overcome and one big one they cannot.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has warned against gambling at Boten following reports of kidnappings (See report below).

Lives on the line

The television documentaries retelling the December 2009 Boten hostage drama were filled with tales of mainland gamblers lured over the border, cheated at the Boten Golden City casino, loaned money at high rates and subjected to “hell on earth”. As the drama unfolded, hundreds of gamblers were believed to have been held

“Anything on that border has a sort of question

mark against it. These places have their own private police forces and militias,” says a regional gaming executive familiar with the industry in Laos. “Security, especially for high rollers, is a major issue. There are none of the protections you’d have in Macau.” Kings Romans Group runs another casino on the

border in Mong La, part of Burma’s Shan state, an area said to be overrun by drug lords and reputed to be a centre for money laundering. The company denies those activities take place but questions remain, especially since its investors’ identities have not been made public. Laws in Laos and its SEZs do not promote

transparency. “It’s unlikely that the current regulations in Laos will facilitate the involvement of the major US gaming companies and, as such, it’s

against their will. Hubei province was forced to intervene, sending a police rescue team to the Laos border. Beijing says the police did not cross the border into the Laos special economic zone but negotiated the release of 10 captives from the casino’s Yunnan owners. Video purportedly shot by a hostage,

showed beatings and other mistreatments within the casino. Three hostages were

reportedly killed. The mainland’s Foreign Ministry warned gamblers to stay away and demanded Laos shut the casinos, which have concessions for up to 90 years. There are genuine security concerns in the special economic zones but some observers suspect Beijing’s warning reflected antagonism between the investors and authorities.

APRIL 2011 23

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