Malaysian online poker and sports betting whale Wei Seng ‘Paul’ Phua may have resolved his US legal troubles but his Macau troubles are only getting started.
In June 2014, Macau authorities shut down what they described as the largest illegal sports betting operation the special administrative region had ever seen. The operation, which was said to be taking wagers on that summer’s FIFA World Cup, was being run out of several hotel rooms at the Wynn Macau casino.
Among the 22 individuals arrested at the time was Phua, who was allowed to post bail and fly to Las Vegas, where he was arrested the following month for allegedly running a different online sports betting operation out of some high-roller digs at Caesars Palace.
It took a year, but Phua ultimately emerged legally unscathed from his Vegas experience, largely on the strength of prosecutorial ineptitude. Phua is undoubtedly hoping some of that luck will rub off on his current trial for illegal gambling, which got underway in Macau’s Court of First Instance on Tuesday.
Macau Business reported that neither Phua nor any of the 14 other defendants made an appearance at Tuesday’s proceedings, which saw two Judiciary Police (PJ) officers testify about putting the Wynn Macau rooms under surveillance after receiving a tip about illegal betting going on inside.
When police pounced, they ended up seizing computers, phones, betting paper and a small amount of cash. But Phua and his fellow accused denied ownership of the seized materials as well as any involvement in running a betting operation, claiming to be simply placing their own bets on the football action.
Questioned by defense lawyers about the lack of video surveillance evidence presented by the prosecution, the two PJ officers had no response, except to say that there’d been some significant turnover in the inspectors overseeing the case in the nearly five years since the raids.
If convicted of illegal gambling, Phua could serve up to three years in prison. However, this appears unlikely, given that the Macau prosecution’s case doesn’t appear any stronger than the one brought by their US counterparts.
Phua and his fellow defendants were originally suspected of involvement with organized crime, but this line of pursuit was abandoned following the initial investigation, and charges against three of the original suspects were eventually dropped.
Phua has a long association with the gambling world, including playing in high-profile, high-stakes poker games. Phua is variously alleged to be the majority owner of Asian online betting giant IBCbet (which rebranded as MAXBET four years ago), to have run a Macau junket operation and having ties to Hong Kong’s infamous 14k Triad.