Chinese authorities have reportedly detained several representatives of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts for as yet unknown reasons.
On Friday, the Australian Financial Review reported that Chinese authorities had detained “at least 18” Crown staffers, including three Australian nationals. Jason O’Connor, Crown’s executive general manager of international VIP services, has been confirmed as one of the detained Australians.
The AFR quoted a Crown spokesperson saying only that the company “believes that a number of our employees in China are being questioned by local authorities” but had no other details to offer. An Aussie government spokesperson said it was “aware” of the reports and was trying to confirm specifics with the relevant Chinese authorities. The two nations have an agreement that requires each country to confirm that it’s holding the other’s citizens within 72 hours of their detention.
The AFR said most of the affected staffers were based in China as part of Crown’s local sales and marketing team. Chinese law prohibits advertising gambling services on the mainland but casino operators are permitted to promote their resorts’ non-gaming tourism offerings.
Crown filed its 2016 annual report last month, which showed normalized net profit of A$406m (US $309m), a 22% year-on-year decline. Part of the company’s stated strategy for reversing this trend was leveraging its “international operations, network, contacts and joint venture to promote Crown’s integrated resorts and operations.”
Crown said international VIP turnover at its Australian properties fell 8% in fiscal 2016, “a reasonable outcome” given “the depressed nature of VIP gaming activity across Asia.” Crown Melbourne bucked the trend by reporting the second highest VIP turnover figure in its 19-year history. Crown Perth fared far worse, with VIP turnover down nearly 19%.