A visit to Malaysia’s only (legal) casino

28. Jun 2009

Malaysia’s only casino, Casino de Genting at Genting Highlands Resort, is for high rollers. For the filthy rich and for the middle men. And for those with dirty money that needs washing.

By Anya Palm 

The big room is less glitzy than in Hollywood movies. The lighting is too bright and the colors too dim and dusty. But that’s all. Other than that – the casino is exactly like in the movies. Piles and piles of chips in front of eager players of all ages. Slots. Slick dealers with empty faces and silk ties. Neon lights. Monotone little melodies from the many machines placed in rooms with names like “Monte Carlo”, “Fortune Corner” and – yes- “Hollywood.”

The Genting Highland Resort Casino in Malaysia is the only casino in the country, seeing as gambling is illegal, save for this one spot.

Tourists come here and the resort has other attractions too. But that’s not interesting. Because regular tourists are not admitted through the doors behind the metal detector and the two armed guards. Into the Silver Lounge where membership card and a certain amount of cash is required. THIS is where money is laundered.

An elderly man sits at one of the hundreds of tables in the lounge. In front of him is a massive amount of yellow chips – 80? 100? 200? Stacked in nice piles, each orderly next to each other.

The Genting Resort Union President, Robert Henry, is present. Besides his job as a union leader, he also works as a guard in the casino. “Each yellow chip is worth 5,000 dollars,” he whispers, as he passes the man with the piles. Dollars.

Later, he reveals that it is not uncommon for the Silver Card Members to come here and gamble for well over a million dollars. And then – like an afterthought – that some of it is money laundering.

– How else would you explain suddenly having millions more than yesterday? “I went to the casino and won.” the president explains. But of course, this is hush. And that is of course just a non waterproof suspicion, he has. He does not ask.

And without knowing it, Henry just made a very excellent point. Because money laundering – or corruption for that matter – is like smoke. Once the money hit the casino, the origin is obvious and hidden at the same time. The union president tells of one client, a Cambodian man that comes every three days with more than a million dollars to gamble for. He always likes to live in a suite and he pays good tips. Who gets a million dollars every third day? In Cambodia? What is this man’s job? Obviously, there is no answer.

In Malaysia corruption cannot be categorized as an overshadowing problem. Malaysia ranks as number 47 out of 180 over Transparency International’s corruption index and thus is in the better end than many of her neighbors. But the thing is that corruption cannot be defined, not in any way that makes sense. It is not excluded to businessmen and shady realty deals or crooked politicians. It is your friendly policeman in the little local station, your children’s math teacher, your mom when you needed vaccine as a child, you. It is a part of the Malaysian culture, which is not easily categorized – nor altered.

Corruption has always been there and we all know it is bad – why talk about it now?

Because of what happened just outside the capital in Malaysia this June:

The Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium collapsed.

The Stadium was built in 2008 and it cost a good billion dollars to build. It holds 50,000 spectators when sold out and sold out it was on Wednesday June 3, when the Public Institute of Higher Learning Games was to be held here. The night before, the gargantuan concrete rooftop collapsed and crashed down over the seats, leaving no doubt that had this happened just 12 hours later, thousands of lives would have been lost.

On the day of the now cancelled event, Malaysia was very quiet. Those, who had their tickets still, got their money back.But guess which money did NOT come back? The dollars that were supposed to go to building a decent stadium. The money, that may or may not have been spend, not on good building materials and competent construction workers and architects, but on chips. Possibly yellow.

So why does Malaysia rank so low on the corruption index, when it is so painstakenly clearly infiltrating this country? And why is there a legal casino in a country that forbids gambling? Who are these people that can gamble for millions and millions on a regular basis? Obviously, the public deserves an answer.