Broken Teeth Fixed: Macau’s New Façade

There is perhaps nobody that better reflects the changes of Macau over the past 15 years than a man named Wan Kuok-koi, otherwise known as “Broken Tooth”. During the 1990s, the largest legitimate industry on the island was textiles and apparel. Even though gambling was technically legal in some venues, it was all controlled by one man, Stanley Ho, who had a monopoly on the industry at the time. Broken Tooth Koi earned his reputation first as an enforcer, and later as a leader of the infamous 14K triad’s Macau syndicate, the most powerful organized crime ring Macau has known. His name came from the injuries he suffered by crashing his own car. But, not only did he not lose his taste for driving fast, as he made his way through the ranks of 14K, he also accrued more expensive and much faster cars. His favorites were flamboyantly-colored Lamborghinis. Broken Tooth Koi’s rise was not easy, clean or safe. In 1999, there were 42 people reported to have died in Macau of triad-related incidents. 14K was well-known for burning cars, and Koi himself is said to have had a hand in the murder of a Portuguese gambling official near the Casino Lisboa, where Koi supposedly had a $50 million stake. Broken Tooth’s own casino, called Heavy Club at the time, reportedly had a mannequin dressed up as a police officer hanging from a noose tied to the ceiling.


The rise

In fact, Broken Tooth had grown to such power by that time that he was able to commission a movie telling his life’s story. The movie Casino – not the one starring Robert De Niro, but the one made Broken Tooth style, featuring semi-prominent Hong Kong producers cast and crew – was meant to be an epic. This was a film that from the outset was designed to intertwine real life with fantasy. And it ended up doing so in more than one way. In its perverse style, it paralleled the life of Macau itself. Even the production was epic. When the film crew asked for permission to shoot on a bridge in Macau, they were denied. But by this time Broken Tooth Koi had come into his own and was a force to be reckoned with. He unilaterally blocked off the bridge with his own men for the purpose of shooting his own life’s story. Neither the authorities nor the police intervened. Ironically, Koi too was arrested while watching his own movie. He was charged with being a gang leader, loan sharking and money laundering. There is no way to tell how many lives or how much bloodshed it cost, but anyone in the know could tell that he probably got away with most of it. Broken Tooth would serve 14 years in prison.

Going to Jail

By the time he emerged, both the Broken Tooth and Macau had changed drastically. In the meantime the place had changed from the sleepy and seedy town that it was, into the world’s Las Vegas. On his way into prison, Broken Tooth made a comment that can leave no doubt about his affiliations or his intentions. He’d said, “anyone who’s done something bad to me will never escape. I won’t kill him. I’ll make him take a voyage to another world.” But when he came out, he was singing a very different tune. Macau had changed greatly during his incarceration; possibly to the point where he wouldn’t have recognized it; perhaps even a place in which he saw no place for his old self. It was time to change, and he seems to have accomplished this. Shortly after his release, he was quoted as saying, I don’t want to affect the stability of Macau. There’s absolutely no way I want to do that. I want to be left alone, Broken Tooth Koi went into a sort of self-exile in Hong Kong. At the time, there were many whispers to the effect that this was some backroom deal with Beijing authorities.

The “new” Macau

Since then, Broken Tooth Koi has had some dental work. But still, even with his fixed teeth and clean reputation, on the books at least, he has managed to keep his hand in the game. Although those hands are officially clean, the old triad activity shows its face from time to time in the form of junket operations. This is the world where black meets white. Junket operators are much more profitable and definitely more legal than blatant organized crime units. In the new Macau, a place where the likes of Stanley Ho have flourished especially after the break on his monopoly of the gambling industry, there is no place for overtly brutal tactics. This Macau is now open to Las Vegas staples such as Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Macau, who are less open to organized crime. Even so, Wynn has recently been accused of being too friendly with junkets.

In fact, Broken Tooth was named specifically by an industry watchdog website, now defunct, for his relations with Wynn Macau for junket operators’ semi-illicit dealings there. Other former members of 14K were also mentioned. Although junkets survive on the margins of legality and are even essential business in Macau, transporting high-rollers and vast amounts of money to and from mainland China, they are also responsible for the thuggish side of the gambling industry. And there have been some vicious crimes in the recent past that are reminiscent of the old Macau. In short, it could be said that the triads have simply changed their name and look to match the new glittering gambling capital. As far as “Broken Tooth” Wan Kuok-koi’s exile, it must be remembered that his exile is Hong Kong, the seat of the 14K triad. It would be naïve to say that he has not had any dealings in Macau since. There are few who believe that his reign over the triad system, whatever form it has now taken, is over. At the very least, it is certain that his shadow still looms over the city.