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Panel considers casino firms’ Macau dealings

BOSTON — Few Massachusetts residents may be familiar with Macau, but the Chinese administrative region that has become the most lucrative gambling market in the world has caught the eye of state regulators as they complete background checks on two casino companies.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is considering whether MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts are suitable casino businesses for the state. The Gaming Commission has scheduled a hearing for MGM today and for Wynn Resorts on Dec. 16.

The two companies have already won approval from their host communities — Wynn in Everett in June and MGM in Springfield in July. Their operations in Macau also have been scrutinized by New Jersey or U.S. regulatory agencies in instances unrelated to Massachusetts.

But as American companies have rushed to capitalize in Macau — where total gambling revenues are expected to easily top $40 billion this year, more than six times that of the Las Vegas Strip — regulators in the U.S. have raised questions about these businesses’ compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“It says U.S. companies have to act like they are in America when they are dealing in foreign countries,” said Steve Norton, an Indiana-based gambling consultant and former casino executive.

Norton said the Massachusetts commission will have to decide how any issues it might find in a company’s Macau operations would relate to casino operations in the state, but he doubts the regulators will find either Wynn or MGM unsuitable.

“If there is a major problem, then I think the commission would go to them and say, ‘This is an issue. You have to get rid of it,’” Norton said.

The two companies were the first resort casino developers in Massachusetts to win approval from their host communities. The background checks, by the commission’s investigative arm, and the panel’s “suitability” decision are among the final hurdles for the few casino applicants that remain viable in Massachusetts.

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