When visiting the world’s biggest gambling mecca, high rollers know who to count on
Author Cain Nunns Illustration Luci Gutiérrez
MACAU – Decked out in a green Lacoste windbreaker, jeans and sneakers, Johnny Wang struts through Macau’s lotus-shaped, neon-spattered Lisboa Casino, shaking hands and patting backs along the way. All around, people sit hunched over high-stakes tables, playing poker, blackjack, baccarat, roulette and the ancient dice game sic bo.
These are troubling times for the Chinese protectorate’s gambling industry, whose revenues dwarf those of Las Vegas but which has now entered a period of decline. Not that this seems to have affected Wang, who operates in a gray area of high-stakes gambling occupied by people who don’t let trifling matters like an economic slump ruin their fun. “Let’s put it this way,” he says. “I don’t have a client who doesn’t own at least one jet.”
A 38-year-old former investment banker, Wang is rail-thin, with deep-set eyes and twitchy mannerisms. He is, essentially, a fixer, catering to the biggest of the big shots—or “whales”—making sure that their Rolls-Royces are on hand, their suites are suitably lavish and their credit lines flow freely. “I’ll do anything,” he says. “And I do mean anything.” Sometimes he’ll take care of clients’ losses, knowing the casinos will reimburse him later, so eager are they to attract players with apparently limitless reserves of money.
“These are successful people,” Wang says, “with huge appetites and a taste for risk.” He lifts his arm to display the too-large Rolex Submariner dangling from his wrist—a gift from a client. “When they’re up, it’s an easy gig,” he says, chomping a sodden Cuban cigar. “When they’re down, the demands go up.” And when Wang says “down,” he means it. “I’ve had guys sign over houses, boats, stocks, anything. It’s all on the table.”
Even the wealthiest of Wang’s clients go to extraordinary lengths to come out ahead at the tables. “I have one who always gambles with his mother-in-law, because she brings him good luck,” he says. “He’s been divorced for three years and still brings her with him.” He pauses and adds, as if the thought has just occurred to him, “Then again, she obviously didn’t bring too much luck to the marriage.”