Thursday saw an announcement by the Judiciary Police of Macau that they have arrested 8 members of an alleged loan sharking group from mainland China who had been targeting gamblers in the lesser known and smaller casinos in the ZAPE strip area.

Teledifusão de Macau reports that authorities believe the group of mainland Chinese loan sharks may number as high as 60 and have been operating for over a year. Victims of the ring who could not pay their debts were allegedly illegally detained until they could repay their loans.

The case has been referred to the Public Prosecutions Office for possible prosecutions.

A week ago, authorities arrested ten people they believed had been targeting local casino workers for their loan racket. This group may have had a local ringleader who was arrested along with 9 others.  The group may be charged with loan sharking, organized crime, forgery and more. The organization may have operated for as many as five years and attracted over 100 victims. The case was also referred to the Public Prosecutors Office.

According to a June report on the Asia Gaming Brief, as many as 1 out of 5 problem gamblers in Macau are currently employed as dealers. The report cited information from the Social Welfare Bureau of Macau who maintain a database known as the ‘Central Registry System of Individuals with Gambling Disorder’.

Earlier this month, before the first arrests were made public, a survey was released showing broad support among casino workers for a complete ban on dealers gambling in casinos. It is commonplace for casinos to ban their own employees from gambling where they work, but a ban under discussion at the highest levels of union and government would stop local casino workers from gambling anywhere in the SAR.

Macau’s Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, stated in late May that the authorities would be focusing specifically on illegal money lending and unlawful detentions after crime numbers in the government’s mid-term review saw a dramatic increase in those two crimes.

Reports earlier this year indicated that victims of illegal detention are not “usually” local residents. Tourists who borrow gambling money and are unable to repay it, are taken to a hotel room where their identifying documents are removed from them, and they are detained until the money plus fees are collected. The ZAPE “strip” roughly north of Lisboa and populated with small casinos, hotels, and restaurants seems to be the preferred trading ground for the loan sharking syndicates, as the government said in May that most of the crimes were occurring outside of the casinos.