Australian casino operator Crown Resorts has been accused of doing business with Asian organized crime syndicates with known links to money laundering, drugs and sex trafficking, according to a joint investigation by three major Australian media outlets.
But there remain some serious questions surrounding the excessive hyperbole and tabloid journalism tactics used in some of the reporting, including a lack of understanding of the widespread use of junkets by casino operators around the globe. What had been described as a story that would “rock the foundations of Australia” ended up being savaged on Twitter overnight by Australian viewers who felt the investigation was over-hyped. Those knowledgeable about the industry will find little that hasn’t either been widely discussed in the past or isn’t very standard, and legal, vanilla industry practice.
According to a series of reports published on Sunday by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes, Crown’s pursuit of Chinese high rollers saw it conduct business with at least one Asian junket operator with links to “Asia’s most powerful organized crime syndicates.”
In particular, the reports allege that a criminal syndicate it refers to as “The Company” laundered money using “Crown-linked” bank accounts and junket rooms and that members of the syndicate were paid to lure high rollers to Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.
“A lust for profits drove an arrogant culture where almost anything including courting people with ties to the criminal underworld was not only allowed but encouraged,” claimed a 60 Minutes report entitled “Crown Unmasked” which aired on Australian television on Sunday night.
The Age also reported that Crown had used a local Melbourne brothel owner, Simon Pan, as an agent to lure high rollers to its Australian properties, noting that Pan’s brothel 39 Tope has been “repeatedly raided by police and subject to sex trafficking investigations between 2008 and at least 2015, while the operations of the brothel have led to major prosecutions of mid-tier workers over breaches of Victorian prostitution laws.”
The links to Crown are largely tentative, and in some instances seem overly-contrived. Any valid points involving links to organized crime or AML practices were lost behind the breathless references to sinister names such as “The Company” and “Mr Chinatown”, the undisclosed use of potentially conflicted interviewees, and the liberal application of foreboding background music throughout the 60 Minutes report.
The story is compromised by the over-dramatization of standard industry events, rehashing of well-trodden ground and reliance on various industry sources whose own backgrounds are conveniently overlooked. We note that of the four key sources interviewed by 60 Minutes overnight, two are ex-Crown employees and another a former Australian Border Force commissioner who was sacked last year for abuse of power.
Most notable is the reporting surrounding the standard activities of casino operators and junket operators alike, including “revelations” that high rollers are lured to Crown by offering them the use of private jets plus various other perks throughout their stay. Such reporting, specifically aimed at painting Crown’s activities in a negative light, conveniently ignores the fact that providing high rollers with incentives to travel to certain properties to play is a fundamental part of their core business – one employed by gaming operators in most casino-resorts the world over.
It was “revealed”, for example, that Crown offers “Hermes scarves” and “Gold iPads” to its high value customers – a move no different to Qantas offering such merchandise to its frequent flyers.
In one example, 60 Minutes travelled to Macau in pursuit of the story, reporting that, “To understand Crown’s duplicity, we need to go to Macau … Crown tried to work around [Chinese anti-gambling] laws. It not only used its own staff to hook the big whales and bring them to Australia, it hired Macau agents knows as ‘junket operators’ to do its dirty business.”
Apart from characterizing standard industry practice as “dirty business”, 60 Minutes fails to note that every major casino in Australia and the rest of the world engages junket operators to attract business.
The reports also asked questions of Australia’s border security controls and pointed to the cousin of President Xi Jinping being among passengers of a casino high roller private jet searched by federal agents on the Gold Coast for suspected money laundering in 2016. However, no justification was offered for why this was of any particular concern, nor do the reports cite any charges or outcomes from the search.
At one stage 60 Minutes breathlessly asked an interviewee, “How could the cousin of Xi Jinping, one of the most powerful politicians on the planet, be living in Melbourne with an Australian passport and no-one in Australia know it?” to which the interviewee vacuously responds, “It’s incredible, it shows how much more we have to learn about China and the way the Chinese communist party operates.”
In an interview discussing the story this morning, a 60 Minutes reporter said, “To run a casino, and some people say a casino is a license to print money, then you need a social license.
“You need the trust of the people in NSW and Victoria and WA that if you are running a casino you are going to be doing all you can to make sure you are not in business with gangsters, with people who might pose a risk to national security. At the moment the people and the government can’t have that confidence.”
The media organizations have promised to release more revelations regarding Crown’s activities throughout this week.