The spotlight on alleged money laundering at Australian casinos has turned from Crown to rival Star as shocking claims emerge.
As Crown Resorts battles to redeem itself from the reputation-battering money laundering scandal, its rival Star Entertainment has become embroiled in explosive allegations it engaged in similar conduct.
While a 2014 report on ABC’s Four Corners shone a spotlight on Crown bringing in Chinese high-rollers with links to organized crime to its Australian casinos, it was a 60 Minutes report aired in 2019 that set the cat among the pigeons, sparking an inquiry by the NSW gaming regulator.
The damning revelations that flowed from the 2020 probe overseen by Commissioner Patricia Bergin resulted in Crown being deemed unfit to hold a gambling license for its brand spanking new $2.2bn venue towering over Sydney at Barangaroo, where only non-gaming activity has been allowed since its December opening.
The shocking findings also prompted separate royal commissions in Melbourne and Perth, where money laundering is said to have occurred.
The inquiry heard Star had also delved deep into the Asian ‘junket’ tour market, hosting 20 ‘gaming salons’ for the private use of these VIPs at The Star Sydney alone, with one designated for an expedition understood to have had Alvin Chau as its financier.
That’s the very same Mr. Chau, whose Macau-based Suncity outfit was at the center of the Crown scandal. With the inquiry hearing, AUSTRAC warned Crown in 2017 that he was “both a foreign PEP (politically exposed person) and has a substantial criminal history”.
Mr. Chau is alleged to be a member of the 14K triad gang and has been banned from entering Australia, reportedly in 2019.
And now, the spotlight has turned on Star, with 60 Minutes on Sunday airing a raft of claims around various allegedly dodgy gamblers pouring a staggering amount of ill-gotten cash into its casinos.
These included a “mostly unemployed” man who allegedly funneled $175m through Star and was charged with the seizure of three tonnes of cocaine.
The report, which followed a joint investigation with The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, also claimed to reveal Star’s top executives were briefed on “secret” KPMG audit reports in 2018 that warned systems to combat the risks of money laundering at its venues were failing.
On Monday, Star’s shares plunged sharply after issuing a statement in response to the Nine reports. “The Star is concerned by several assertions within the media reports that it considers misleading,” the company said.
“There are constraints on publicly discussing specific individuals. “We will take the appropriate steps to address all allegations with relevant state and federal regulators and authorities, including Mr. Adam Bell SC, who is undertaking a regular review of The Star Sydney.”
Mr. Bell was also lead senior counsel assisting the Bergin inquiry, and his appointment for the Star review was announced last month.
“This experience provides Mr. Bell with a deep understanding of the current casino landscape which will be invaluable for this role,” NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority chair Philip Crawford said at the time.
“He is expected to hand down his findings to ILGA in late January 2022.” Meanwhile, ILGA advised on Monday it had approved three temporary liquor licenses for Crown’s Barangaroo venue that were due to expire at the end of this month.
“ILGA’s position on Crown Sydney’s gaming operations has not changed, with authority still monitoring and assessing Crown’s responses to the issues arising from the Bergin report,” Mr. Crawford said.
“These issues are complex, and Crown is required to undertake significant change to satisfy the authority that it is on a pathway to becoming suitable to hold a gaming license.
“It will take further time for Crown to fully implement that change and for the authority to give it proper consideration before making its determination.”
Crown has gutted its board – as strongly suggested by Mr. Crawford – but a key area of contention remains major shareholder James Packer. The Bergin inquiry heard his influence had been “disastrous” as he was the driving force to secure more junket market.
And in August, the NSW government accepted every one of the 19 recommendations from the Bergin report, including amending the Casino Control Act so that a person may not acquire, hold or transfer an interest of 10 percent or more in a casino licensee without the prior approval of a new Independent Casino Commission.
Mr. Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings has a 37 percent stake in Crown, and in responsive closing submissions to the Victorian royal commission, CPH argued slashing his interest was unnecessary.
“The mere holding of shares, even a large parcel of shares, in a holding company, does not of itself give a person influence over and concerning the management or operation of the casino business,” CPH lawyers wrote. Published initially as Would-be Crown suitor Star embroiled in its own money-laundering scandal, shares tumble.