The ongoing competition for gambling licenses in Massachusetts turned Thursday on an unlikely locale: Macau, China.
During a meeting of the state gambling commission, representatives from international casino developers MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts, including chairman Steve Wynn, asked that the panel consider the laws and customs of the places they operate — in particular, Macau — when investigating their backgrounds and corporate ethics.
State investigators and consultants have for months been vetting the two casino giants, and other applicants for Bay State casino licenses, as part of intensive background checks to ensure the companies do not have relationships with criminals or people of questionable character.
Investigators have visited Macau — a rapidly expanding worldwide gambling destination where both companies operate casinos — as part of their investigations, which should be finished in coming weeks. Neither the commissioners nor the casino companies have yet seen the investigative reports on the background checks.
In the gambling industry, regulators will insist that casino operators maintain high ethical standards in every jurisdiction in which they operate, and sometimes will impose conditions or sanctions locally for a company’s behavior in another part of the country or the world.
“This is a nuanced area, this is a complicated area,” said the commission’s chairman, Stephen Crosby, in an interview. “How do you weigh a company’s behavior in other jurisdictions if they’re complying with laws that are woefully less rigorous than your own? Does that matter? It’s a legitimate question.”
Though no decisions were made and much of the discussion Thursday was abstract and hypothetical, the companies signaled that Massachusetts regulators should respect the laws and customs of other jurisdictions.
“Macau has matured and done a good job trying to get their arms around exponential growth,” said Wynn, who has proposed a $1.3 billion casino resort on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett.
In several animated exchanges with commission members, Wynn said that his company works hard to vet the people it does business with, and that the commission should expect multinational companies to abide by the local laws and regulations inside each jurisdiction in which they operate.
“You are young and inexperienced, and this is tricky,” Wynn told the commission, which formed in 2012.
Crosby said after the meeting that the commission does not intend to force companies to follow Massachusetts standards outside the state.
“We’re not going to try to regulate other jurisdictions,” he said.
“We just want to know how you operate in other jurisdictions, so we can determine whether that has any relevance to your integrity in our jurisdiction.
“We’re not going to nitpick,” Crosby said. “We are going to think hard about broad-brushed reality and perceptions and how they will affect the way the industry is perceived in Massachusetts.”
Wynn is competing for the Greater Boston resort casino license with Suffolk Downs and its partner, Caesars Entertainment, in East Boston and Revere, and a Foxwoods project in suburban Milford.
MGM, pursuing the Western Massachusetts license, has proposed a casino in downtown Springfield.
MGM is competing with a Mohegan Sun project in Palmer.
The commission expects to award the licenses in early 2014.