Melbourne's Crown Casino

Australia’s Crown Resorts Faces Heat Following Junket Exposés

The other shoe has finally dropped in the matter of the tie-ups between Australia’s Crown Resorts and the underground junketeering network in the People’s Republic of China that resulted in the arrests by Chinese authorities of 19 Crown employees in October of 2016. Following a six-month joint investigation by “60 Minutes Australia“, The Age, and the Sydney Morning Herald and the publication of several exposés airing Crown’s dirty laundry in the massive (but illicit) marketing effort designed to lure Chinese gambling whales to Crown.

While the public furor over Crown’s alleged criminal underground activity continues, Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter has informed the nation’s Parliament that Crown’s affairs and connections to many prominent government officials also will be investigated by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

The Chinese arrests eventually resulted in short-term prison sentences for 16 of the 19 Crown resorts executives and employees, along with a collective $1.35 million in fines. Among those found guilty were Jason O’Connor, the vice president of Crown’s VIP international operations. O’Connor received a 10-month sentence. However, many of the details of what really occurred remained obscured for the better part of three years.

The joint investigation, termed “Crown Unmasked”, detailed the casino operator’s close ties to several Chinese and Asian Rim organized-crime groups, including one notorious triad operation nicknamed “The Company”. In addition to the violations of Chinese laws regarding gambling that led to the arrests, the joint exposés revealed a world of “sex trafficking, drugs, [and] money laundering” that allegedly violated many Australian laws as well.

Crown has issued a brief statement in response to to the exposés essentially declaring its innocence while pledging its cooperation with the upcoming Australian investigation. In it, the casino company claims stringent compliance with Australia’s anti-money-laundering laws “in a proactive manner”, including the reporting of all transactions valued at AU $10,000 or higher. However, as a Herald editorial noted, “some of its arrangements appear to involve payments flowing between Crown, the junket operators and their clients which are then gambled on Crown’s tables. This could make it hard to trace who is paying for what and increase the risk of someone abusing the system.”

Crown Resorts’ statement also claims, “Crown has a robust process for vetting junket operators with whom it deals and undertakes regular ongoing reviews of these operators in the light of new or additional information that comes to its attention.”

Many Australians view the latest allegations against Crown as nothing new. Speaking before Parliament, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said the allegations were “just the tip of the iceberg”, while comparing Crown to the Vatican (an independent sovereign state) and noting “laws do not apply”. Wilkie also brought up the notorious pokie (slot machine) fixing episode at Crown in which the company’s officials were caught in blatant lies. The casino encouraged bettors — and even provided small plastic devices — to aid in setting the pokies to a form of continuous play that was in violation of Australian gambling law.

Wilkie also claimed that one or more whistleblowers had informed him of widespread illegal activity at Crown Melbourne, including “organized crime, money laundering, improper activity by consular officials, tampering with poker machines, and domestic violence and drug trafficking on Crown property.” The reference to the consular activity relates to the alleged fast-tracking of visas for Chinese gambling whales, pushed for by Crown’s marketing execs. According to Wilkie, “there is no law at Crown… you can do anything you want”.

Perhaps one of the most damning developments relates to a claim by Crown in relation to the 2016 China arrests that the company would never instruct its employees to conduct law-breaking activity. That claim was directly rebuked by one part of the multiple exposés, an interview with Chinese Crown worker Jenny Jiang. Jiang, who appears to be one of the three Crown workers who was arrested but not subsequently sentenced to prison, instead detailed her claims of how she and other workers were incentivized for violating China’s gambling laws. Jiang, who worked in a position in which she was able to avoid most of the alleged illegal activity, also claimed that Crown later offered her $60,000 to stay quiet about the matter.

Unknown at this stage is how much of the activity could be tied back to Crown Resorts’ prominent leader, James Packer. Packer resigned from Crown Resorts’ board of directors in 2018, but remains an integral part of the company. Packer has been involved in multiple controversies over the years, both related to and apart from his casino activities.

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