Star refutes comparisons to Crown during annual general meeting

By Ethan Anderson Updated
New light on Queensland probe into Star

Star Entertainment has gone on the offensive to shareholders, denying media reports that the embattled casino operator is just like Crown Resorts. reports that Star bombarded shareholders with information, including rattling off a list of efforts it has undertaken to combat money laundering.

These include rolling out facial recognition technology in Queensland after it was installed at its Sydney casino.

Earlier this month, Star shares plunged the day after a 60 Minutes report aired a raft of claims around various allegedly dodgy gamblers pouring a staggering amount of ill-gotten cash into its venues.

These include a “mostly unemployed” man who allegedly funnelled $175 million through Star and was charged in connection to 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 anti-money laundering systems at its venues were failing.

Star attacks media reports as “misleading”

The company issued two statements in response, initially saying it considered a number of assertions within the media reports “misleading” and then dismissing them as incorrect.

The latter was the term chief executive John O’Neill again used at Star’s annual general meeting that recently took place.

“As you would appreciate, we are not able to comment publicly on individuals,” Mr O’Neill told investors.

“However, we can comment on steps we have taken for continuous improvement in not only the area of anti-money laundering, but also responsible gambling and other key operational practices across the group.

“I want to make it clear – The Star is committed to a culture of compliance and to the extent improvements in controls or practices are identified, we will act on them.”

Star’s new anti-money laundering measures outlined to shareholders

Chief executive Matt Bekier said the anti-money laundering measures included implementing new and purpose-built automated transaction monitoring capability to help detect potentially suspicious money movements.

“We believe that we have made very good progress in this area and we have a range of further improvement initiatives under development,” Mr Bekier said.

The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority’s regular five-yearly review of The Star Sydney is being led by barrister Adam Bell, who was lead senior counsel assisting the 2020 inquiry into Crown, which found the James Packer-backed company facilitated money laundering by Chinese high-roller junket tours over many years.

That was the same conclusion the 2021 Victorian royal commission came to, when its report was tabled in Parliament in late October.

Star’s junket activities called into question

The NSW inquiry was told Star, too, had delved deep into the junket market, hosting 20 “gaming salongs” for the private use of VIPs at the Star Sydney alone, with one designated for a junket understood to have had Alvin Chau, alleged to be a member of the 14K triad gang, as its financier.

Asked by a shareholder if Star would resume hosting junkets after ceasing last October, Mr O’Neill said the company would “focus on international premium mass and direct premium mass once borders reopen.”

Despite Star’s insistence it is doing the right thing, there will be an intense spotlight on its Sydney casino review, components of which will be held in public in March, with the report due by June 30.

“These reviews are not generally published or otherwise made public, for very sound reasons,” Mr O’Neill said at the meeting.

The Queensland regulatory, the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation, is also investigating the media allegations.

Responding to a shareholder question, Mr O’Neill said there were “no updates” regarding its spurned takeover offer to Crown, which Star abandoned after “limited engagement”.

Both had previously said they were open to discussions.

The Star executives stressed to investors their excitement about Queensland, where the company is making huge investments.

“The Olympics offer South East Queensland and Queensland more broadly a 10-year ‘Green and Gold runaway’ and a 10-year legacy to follow,” Mr O’Neill said.

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