A Chinese national sports figure’s casino gambling debts are causing public embarrassment for Beijing, which is rarely a good idea for any public figure.
A writ filed in a Hong Kong court last Friday accuses two-time Olympic gold medal tennis table player Kong Linghui of failing to repay a six-figure marker drawn on an account at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort in Singapore.
According to the writ, Kong signed a S$1m (US $721k) credit agreement with the casino in February 2015 that established the man known as China’s ‘ping pong prince’ as a premium player at MBS. Kong eventually repaid over S$545k but has yet to make good on the remaining S$454k. The casino, which is owned by Las Vegas Sands, is suing for repayment of the balance plus interest.
Kong issued a statement on Monday via social media that claimed he hadn’t actually gambled away the sum at the casino, but had only “provided my personal details to the casino” to get chips for friends and family while Kong himself was only “watching them play.”
Kong insisted that he only learned of the debt after the writ was filed, and through his subsequent inquiries discovered that “someone had unsettled debts with the casino.” Kong said he ‘immediately asked the person to clarify the matter and I reserve the right to protect myself through legal means.”
In addition to achieving Olympic and World Cup glory, the 41-year-old Kong is currently the coach of the national women’s table tennis team, or at least he was before the writ was filed. Kong apologized for the negative publicity he’d brought upon the Chinese team, which is currently competing in Germany.
Beijing authorities take a dim view of gambling, and tend to be even less impressed when someone who represents the country on the global stage demonstrates a fondness for an activity that is forbidden on his home soil.
China also takes a dim view of anything that makes its sports stars look vulnerable. Case in point; last week’s highly touted face-off between the world’s number one Go board game player Ke Jie and the artificial intelligence AlphaGo game-playing machine. Despite voluminous pre-match hype, Chinese authorities imposed a ban on livestreaming or even texting live updates about the event within China, apparently fearing (rightly, as it turned out) that AlphaGo would make the national hero look bad.
Kong is but the latest Asian VIP to have earned a trip to the MBS legal woodshed over his unpaid gambling markers. Most recently, MBS won a ruling in Singapore’s High Court over a nearly $2m debt owed by a local businessman.