Packer’s Crown casino company unable to contact 18 employees detained in China

Employees of Crown Resorts, including three Australians, arrested over soliciting Chinese high rollers to gamble in overseas casinos

Crown Resorts has been unable to contact any of its employees since they were detained three days ago in a series of late-night raids in China and taken away for questioning.

“To date, Crown has not been able to speak with our employees and is working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to urgently make contact and ascertain their welfare,” a Crown Resorts spokeswoman told Guardian Australia on Monday.

“Crown is staying in close contact with and is providing support to the families of our employees in China and Australia.”

Crown believes that Jason O’Connor, the head of Crown’s VIP International team is one of 18 Crown employees being questioned by Chinese authorities.

Jiang Ling, another Crown employee, was taken from her home in Shanghai in the early hours of last Friday by police, her husband Jeff Sikkema told the Guardian.

Jeff Sikkema and wife Jiang Ling, who was taken from their home in Shanghai following a police crackdown on gambling.

Eighteen Crown employees were arrested in the raids on Thursday night, including three Australians. The arrests relate to soliciting Chinese high rollers to gamble in overseas casinos, including in Australia, an offence which carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

The arrests follow a crackdown announced by China’s Ministry of Public Security last year on foreign casinos targeting Chinese citizens. Gambling is illegal in mainland China, except through state-sanctioned lotteries, creating a market for casinos overseas to lure high-rollers to their shores.

When the crackdown was announced, Hua Jingfeng, a deputy bureau chief at the Ministry of Public Security, said casinos in countries like Australia saw China as “an enormous market”.

“A fair number of neighbouring countries have casinos, and they have set up offices in China to attract and drum up interest from Chinese citizens to go abroad and gamble,” he said.

“This will also be an area that we will crack down on.”

According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Chinese authorities have three days in which to notify the government of the detention of the Australians, according to the terms of a bilateral consular treaty.

“We are aware of reports of the possible detention of a number of Crown International Group employees across China overnight on 13-14 October, including three Australians,” a department spokeswoman said.

“Consular officials will seek to offer appropriate consular assistance to the detained Australians in accordance with the consular services charter.”

Guardian Australia has contacted China’s foreign ministry for comment.

In a statement, the foreign ministry would only say the group was being detained for “gambling crimes”.

Charles Livingstone, a gambling researcher from Monash University’s department of health social science, said while he did not believe the Chinese government crackdown would affect casinos in Australia, it was “pretty ominous” for Crown group’s casino in Macau.

Macau is the only territory in China where casinos are allowed, and James Packer’s Crown group has two resorts there.

“The Chinese government periodically cracks down on gambling as it sees it as an outlet for corrupted funds,” Livingstone said.

“A lot of high-ranking officials and business people use it as a way of laundering money and showing off prestige and wealth. The Chinese government has cracked down on access to Macau because of this, and as a result the casino market there, including Packer’s casinos, are in retreat.

“While the crackdown may not have any effect on Packer’s operations in Australia, it won’t make the Macau investments any healthier. It must now be in serious difficulty.”

He said Chinese high rollers who travelled to Australia to gamble did not comprise a large enough portion of the profits made by casinos like Crown in Melbourne and Star in Sydney for the crackdown to hurt profit margins there.

“About 65 to 75% of revenue that goes to Australian casinos comes from local people spending on pokies,” Livingstone said. “Casinos get some cream from high rollers and middle-class Chinese tourists, and Chinese people do drop more money per trip to the casino than locals, but we’re not talking about global billions. There are plenty of other casinos closer to China than those in Australia.”

Livingstone said the Chinese government was doing what “Australian governments have proved incapable of”.

“They’re standing up to James Packer,” he said. “If Packer wants something, he gets it, and Barangaroo is the classic example of that.”

Source: The Guardian



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