A couple of years ago, I visited Atlantic City to write a feature as a special correspondent for Macau Business magazine. My only previous visit to Atlantic City had been to try out for Jeopardy about 15 years earlier, when I took the test, ate the buffet at Merv Griffin’s hotel (Merv also produced Jeopardy), and drove straight home.
Atlantic City was depressing back then, like the Louis Malle film of the same name, and it was still sad when I returned. The few bright spots included Angelo’s Fairmont Tavern, a red brick Italian restaurant with great fish and a signed photo of Frank Sinatra over the bar; The Quarter, a Cuban themed mall at The Tropicana, though the hotel had been seized by regulators en route to its third owner in about as many years after a bankruptcy; and Borgata, the newest, biggest and fanciest casino in town that brought Las Vegas style and customers under 60 to Atlantic City.
Last week, MGM Mirage announced that it would sell its 50 percent stake in Borgata to settle a five year long probe by New Jersey casino regulators into its Macau partnership with Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho. State investigators deemed the younger Ho an “unsuitable” partner for MGM. In the wake of that finding, MGM chose Macau over Atlantic City and kept its partnership with Pansy Ho, as I wrote in Asia Times.
“Absolutely the right decision for MGM,” IGamiX managing partner Ben Lee told me. “Asia is a short, medium and long term growth story. The States is a mature market. If MGM gave up Macau, they would find it extremely difficult to get back in again, and nobody in Asia would ever take them seriously after that.”
The kicker is the report from New Jersey investigators skewers MGM for ignoring its own findings about Stanley Ho’s underworld ties and his relationship with Pansy Ho, and for being less than forthright with casino regulators. The report gives a whole new meaning to MGM lion besides that 63 ton bronze sculpture of Leo outside the MGM Grand Macau.
But MGM doesn’t seem to think its dishonesty matters, even though it runs highly regulated businesses in several other jurisdictions, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and hopes to get another stock listing in Hong Kong this year. MGM acts as if its settlement with New Jersey puts that corporate duplicity, now in plain public view, behind it; instead, perhaps the report should lead investors and regulators ask, “If MGM lied to New Jersey, how can we be sure it’s not lying to us?” Otherwise MGM’s roaring deceit and arrogance will keep paying off.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.