Macau’s top gambling tycoon: Who is Jack Lam?

Jodesz Gavilan

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Macau’s top gambling tycoon: Who is Jack Lam?
Chinese gambling tycoon Jack Lam is accused of bribery and economic sabotage by the Duterte administration

MANILA, Philippines – Another name has been added to the list of individuals who have earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte.  

Jack Lam, a Chinese gaming tycoon, is accused of bribery and economic sabotage after allegedly attempting to offer money to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in connection with the arrest of over 1,300 Chinese nationals illegally working at Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Pampanga.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa on Saturday, December 3, said that Duterte instructed all PNP units to arrest Lam

The order comes after Aguirre said he would not pursue legal action as there was no “overt act of bribery” on the part of Lam.

But days before news that he was ordered arrested was disclosed, the Chinese tycoon left the Philippines. The Bureau of Immigration on Sunday, December 4, said that since flying out of the country on November 29, there has been “no record of arrival” yet of Lam. 

Lam, however, has firmly denied the allegations – which include also bribing Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chair Andrea Domingo. 

His Filipino lawyer Raymond Fortun said that Lam “has no reason to bribe anyone” because he has the necessary permits and license to operate the Fontana Leisure Park and Casino.

He added that when Aguirre and Lam met at BGC “only for 5 to 10 minutes” on November 26, the businessman “merely wished to inform the good Secretary that he was engaged solely in legal activities in Fontana.” The meeting was said to be facilitated by retired Chief Superintendent Wally Sombero.

Macau’s top gambling tycoon

Born in Guangzhou, China in 1961, Lam (Lam Yin Lok) moved to Hong Kong in 1979 to work in a factory with his uncle. In 1981, after years of joining his uncle’s gambling trips to Macau, Lam began working in the industry as a sub-agent. 

A Shanghai Business Review (SBR) report in 2015 described Lam as someone who was natural with rich gamblers as he “well understood their motivations and catered to their every whim, allowing him to reach the top of the ultimate service industry.”  

Lam’s undeniable rapport with “legendary kingpins” helped him build his gambling empire. 

With 30 years of experience under his belt, Lam became one of the most important figures in the Macau gaming industry. In 2009, he was named by the Global Gambling Business Magazine as one of the 10 most influential people in gaming.  

Jimei International Entertainment Group, which Lam chairs, holds two of Macau’s top-notch companies: Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Macau. The company is often referred to as one of the “largest VIP junket operators in Asia.” 

The group earned $16.8 million (P837.1 million)* during the first 6 months of 2016 from its entertainment and gambling sector alone.

According to his profile, Lam is also a member of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, general chairperson of the Federation of Hong Kong Guangdong Community Organizations, and a director of the China Overseas Friendship Association.

Lam’s presence in the PH

Lam’s businesses include real estate development and hotel and resort operations. He also has securities and investments in Hong Kong, China, and the Philippines. 

His ventures in the Philippines, including the 300-hectare Fontana and Fort Ilocandia Hotel, are described by analysts as his “most adventurous investments,” according to the SBR. 

Contracts for casino operations in Fort Ilocandia were granted and implemented during the administration of Joseph Estrada. 

But even before acquiring Fort Ilocandia in the early 2000s, Lam had already been involved in the gambling industry in the Philippines.

According to a Rappler source privy to casino junket operations, he started having activities within the various Manila casinos in the latter part of the 1990s. 

Given that his business presence in the Philippines already spans two decades, Lam was described as being “way ahead” of most foreign nationals operating in the country in terms of revenue, reach, and influence.

But despite the legitimacy of his businesses, rumors of “illegal activities” shroud Lam’s operations. Was the discovery of more than 1,300 illegal workers in his Philippine-based establishment just the tip of the iceberg? –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.