Analysis: Reported money laundering probe on MBS casino won't dent its image, say PR players

 Last week, Marina Bay Sands was reported to be in the midst of an ongoing investigation by the US Department of Justice over breach of anti-money laundering regulations. According to Bloomberg, the DOJ had issued a subpoena to a former compliance chief of MBS requesting an interview or documents on “money laundering facilitation and any abuse of internal financial controls”. MBS said in a statement that it has investigated “every assertion of wrongdoing” brought to its attention and takes any suggestion of inappropriate activity seriously.

On top of the money laundering probe from the US, Marina Bay Sands is also probed by the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) into its money transfer policies, according to Bloomberg. The regulator said claims on unauthorised money transfers surfaced last year in a lawsuit against MBS. The plaintiff who goes by the name of Wang Xi was suing MBS to recover SG$9.1 million that was allegedly sent to casino patrons without his approval in 2015. MBS has not publicly commented on this suit, Marketing understands. Meanwhile, CRA added in the Bloomberg article that it is “committed to ensuring casinos in Singapore remain free from criminal influence or exploitation”.

The Marina Bay Sands is owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp, and a must-see destination in Asia. The iconic building has also contributed to increasing business and leisure tourism to Singapore. In light of the two ongoing money-related probes, PR players Marketing spoke to said MBS has established itself as a brand that goes far beyond the casino operations and that its communications in between is what makes for a good reputation to stand the test of time.

According to Lena Soh-Ng, CEO of Huntington Communications, transparency and timing are important factors for MBS in times of communicating during a crisis. She explained that it is crucial for MBS to be transparent in its communication with stakeholders and the public, while ensuring that the statement is made sooner.

“It allows people to move on, once there's a sense that the crisis is being managed and under control. Having third party views helps too, as these advisors can bring objectivity and perspectives when public image is at stake,” she said, adding:

It’s also good to remember that all crises have their peaks, and they do ebb.

"Marina Bay Sands is a Singapore landmark. It's a must-se' tourism icon with its distinctive architecture. It's associated with the sky pool, world class Michelin restaurants, shows such as Cirque du Soleil and world-class musicals. It's what's communicated in between that makes for a good reputation that stands the test of time,” Soh-Ng said.

Agreeing with Soh-Ng, Lars Voedisch, managing director at PRecious Communications too said MBS can be applauded for having built a brand that goes far beyond the casino operations, becoming a global landmark and Singapore icon. He added that the brand is also intentionally built on multiple pillars and for casino to be only a relatively small part of it.

However, with the ongoing investigations, the brand should take a position of "innocent until proven guilty’, said Voedisch as the court of public opinion judges on perception more than facts. “Too often, public opinions are influenced by the old saying of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. So even if all allegations would show to be completely baseless, a certain stain will stay in the reputation of a brand - in this case MBS or Singapore,” he added.

In times such as these, it is important a brand stays factual and transparent - and try not to get associated with any particular wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the CRA recently said the Singapore government is looking to prevent money laundering and financing terrorism by tightening the due diligence process for customers at its casinos. According to The Straits Times, the regulator has halved the legislative threshold to SG$5,000, for the amount of cash transactions at casinos that are subject to a regulatory review. The amount was initially at SG$10,000.