Crown Resorts facing two new probes into junkets, casino crime


crown-resorts-junket-gaming-probesAustralian casino operator Crown Resorts is facing at least two new probes following allegations of sketchy behavior in its Asian VIP gambling business.

On Thursday, Marlene Kairouz, minister for gaming in the state of Victoria (home to the Crown Melbourne casino), announced that she had instructed the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) to launch an investigation into the allegations made against Crown in last Sunday’s 60 Minutes television broadcast.

The 60 Minutes episode was part of a joint investigation with The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers that alleged Crown had violated Chinese law by promoting gambling on the mainland, questioned the propriety of Crown’s relationships with its junket operator partners, and called into question Crown’s arrangement with federal officials to fast-track short-term visa applications for Asian high-rollers.

Kairouz called her state’s probe into Crown’s conduct “a matter of priority” and said she expected the VCGLR to “cooperate fully with any investigation” and to “report back to me as soon as possible.” Kairouz also asked anyone with information to come forward, raising the possibility of more Crown ex-staff joining the ones who appeared on 60 Minutes to dish the dirt.

The timing could be better, as the Guardian reported Thursday that Crown had failed to fix nine ‘serious’ problems identified by the VCGLR when it renewed Crown Melbourne’s gaming license last year. These areas of concern, which included beefing up its anti-money laundering protocols and keeping serious criminals off the premises, were supposed to be rectified by July 1.

And on Wednesday, The Age reported that the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) had launched an inquiry into the role of organized crime in Australian casinos, with an emphasis whether junkets provide “opportunities for exploitation by serious and organized crime to conceal and legitimize criminal wealth.”

The ACIC inquiry doesn’t appear to be specifically focused on Crown, meaning Crown’s rival The Star Entertainment Group will likely find itself under the microscope, as well.

These aren’t the only probes Crown is currently facing. On Tuesday, Australia’s attorney general referred the matter to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), a federal corruption watchdog, to see if there was any fire behind all this smoke.

Worse, some local politicians are demanding that the government do something about the 60 Minutes report’s evidence that junket operators who bring VIPs to Australia are allowing them to use “large calibre sniper rifles” to illegally shoot “wild rabbits, foxes, wombats, wood ducks, red deers, sambar deers” at a junket-owned rural resort. People will tolerate a lot, but woe to anyone who brags about killing Bambi’s mom.

On Wednesday, Crown’s board of directors took out full-page ads in local newspapers slamming the media outlets for mounting “a deceitful campaign” based on “unsubstantiated allegations, exaggerations, unsupported connections and outright falsehoods.”

While Crown’s shares had lost around 6.3% of their value since Friday, the shares closed up 0.6% on Thursday, suggesting either investors believed the worst was over or simply felt better because Crown’s board wasn’t going down without a fight.