The former head of Crown Resorts’ international VIP operations has told a state government inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a NSW casino license that he expressed concerns the company was placing profits before safety shortly before his arrest by Chinese authorities in October 2016.
Jason O’Connor, who was one of 19 Crown employees arrested in mainland China for illegally promoting gambling, said the pressure of making the company’s AU$2.2 billion Crown Sydney project – due to open early next year – may have “blinkered” senior management despite the arrest of 13 representatives of South Korean casinos in similar circumstances just 12 months earlier. O’Connor was later jailed for 10 months in Shanghai before being released in August 2017.
Fronting the inquiry last week, O’Connor said he had been “very concerned” by news of a Chinese crackdown on gambling but realised his “challenge would be convincing our masters that they need to temper their expectations,” according to Australian media reports.
“With the development plans (for Crown Sydney) ahead, talk of conservative expectations won’t be well received,” O’Connor allegedly wrote to a colleague.
He told the inquiry, “I thought at the time there was something of a disconnect between the business volumes and profits our business unit was able to deliver relevant to what was expected.”
He did, however, state that he had believed Crown’s team was acting within the realms of mainland China law based on advice from a local law firm.
“I’ll be the first to concede that we overlooked some of the signals,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t fully appreciate the Chinese legal system doesn’t operate the way the western system does.”
The suitability of Crown Resorts to retain a gaming license for Crown Sydney is among the key issues being investigated by the inquiry, originally sparked by Australian media reports that the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority said “raised various allegations into the conduct of Crown Resorts and its alleged associates and business partners and raised questions as to whether the Licensee remains a suitable person to hold a restricted gaming license for the purposes of the Casino Control Act.”
Crown Resorts has already been given the green light by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), which in late 2018 found the company and its subsidiary Crown Melbourne “remains a suitable person to hold a casino license” in its Sixth Review of the Melbourne Casino Operator and License.
The inquiry is scheduled to continue this Wednesday 9 September.