Crown’s willingness to ban junkets called into question at Victorian royal commission

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Crown’s willingness to ban junkets called into question at Victorian royal commission

The Victorian royal commission into Crown Resorts has heard the casino operator does not intend to allow any high rollers associated with junket tour groups to gamble at its Australian casinos, but that it had previously shown “wilful blindness” to the activities of the junkets, who were often linked to organised crime.

The ABC reports that counsel assisting the royal commission Penny Neskovcin QC said Crown showed wilful blindness to the activities.

“We’ll be submitting this is illustrative of Crown doing the bare minimum, and it will be illustrative of what we will call or describe as a culture of not looking too hard,” she said.

Ms Neskovcin said while previous statements from Crown about whether it would ban junket groups from its casinos had been “equivocal”, last Wednesday, the commission received a letter from Crown about its future intentions.

“Each of Crown Resorts Limited and Crown Melbourne Limited confirms it has ceased dealing with international junket operators and has ceased dealings with junket tour operators,” Ms Neskovcin said the letter stated.

“It does not intend to deal with international junket operators in the future, whether by staff based in Australia or otherwise, and does not intend to deal with junket tour operators in the future.”

In November 2020, Crown committed to stop relationships with all junket operators but left the door open to recommencing the relationships if gaming regulators allowed it.

In April, the Victorian gambling regulator temporarily banned Crown from bringing junket tour groups to Australia.

In mid-May, Crown agreed with the New South Wales gaming regulator that it wouldn’t bring international junkets to its proposed casino in Barangaroo.

The royal commission into Crown is being held following allegations to a New South Wales inquiry that the junket operators were backed by organised crime syndicates, including triad-controlled drug trafficking and money laundering groups.

WA calls for extension of junket ban to include premium players

In Western Australia, police have asked the state’s casino watchdog to extend a ban on junket operations at Crown Perth to cover other high rollers and gamblers with privileged status, evidence before the state’s royal commission has heard.

The WA Gaming and Wagering Commission agreed to the request to ban “premium or privileged player” activity amid police concerns over money laundering linked to organised crime figures.

The Australian Financial Review flagged the ban handed down on February 23 in an exclusive report, also revealing that not once in the past five years have WA regulators used their powers to reject an application for a licence to work at Crown Perth.

The ban on premium and privileged players, those lured directly to the casino rather than by junket operators and given access to special gaming floors and facilities, came with police taking a close look at Crown after seizing about $50 million in cash in six months from carriers they believed answered to international drug syndicates.

Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch, a key figure in seizures mostly involving trucks entering WA from interstate with cash and drugs, attended a GWC meeting on February 16 with the ban imposed at a follow up meeting seven days later.

Giving evidence at the royal commission, WA’s new chief casino officer Mark Beecroft confirmed that police had requested the ban.

Mr Beecroft, a director of strategic regulation in WA’s Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, replaced Michael Connolly as chief casino officer in early February after media reports of Mr Connolly’s friendship and frequent fishing trips with senior staff at Crown in charge of legal and compliance matters.

Asked why the GWC had imposed the ban on premium and privileged players as well as junket tours, Mr Beecroft said: “At the request of a member of the WA police who was at the meeting”.

Mr Beecroft also gave evidence that prior to the junket ban, WA regulators had done away with a screening and approval system for operators and participants coming to Crown Perth from overseas, including from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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