Several years ago, in September 2014, the shocking news that the joint venture of Crown Resorts in Macau – Melco Crown – was bringing in Chinese high-roller players by using the services of junket operators associated with organised crime, came to light.
According to reports at the time, the junket operators were linked to criminal gangs that have been known for money laundering, people trafficking, debt collection, etc. One of them was Suncity – a company long known by law enforcement authorities on a global scale for its Triad ties.
Then, media reports that junket operators not only run some of the VIP rooms in Macau-based Melco Crown but are also bringing high-roller players from mainland China to the domestic casinos of the Australian gambling giant, buoyed. Unfortunately, there was barely a response from the major political parties at the time. The main regulatory body in Australia, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), also did not spare much of a reaction to these reports.
Media Revelations Marked the Beginning of Crown Resorts’ Licence Probe
Only a year before the scandalous revelations of Crown Resort’s alleged links to criminal organisations through their junket partners, the VCGLR completed its fifth periodic review of the operating licence held by Crown Resorts for its Melbourne casino, and the Australian gambling giant effortlessly passed it.
Then, history repeated itself when the Victorian regulator failed to exterminate similar criminal activity, as revealed in media reports. Crown Resorts’ operating licence was once again reviewed by the VCGLR in June 2018, with the watchdog tagging the gambling company as suitable for operating its Melbourne. During the review, the regulatory body was required to make sure that the casino’s operations were not associated with any criminal activity.
Last year, a number of local media hubs published compelling evidence that Crown Resorts had been relying on customers brought in by junket operators linked to some Asian criminal organisations engaged in people and drug trafficking and money laundering. According to the reports, money had been laundered by the criminal gangs through Crown Resorts’ casino operations thanks to junkets’ help.
This time, there was finally a reaction from the regulators across the country. The revelations triggered an inquiry into the gambling company’s operations held by the New South Wales (NSW) Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority. The investigation has already exposed massive failures at Crown Resorts.
As a result, Crown Resorts now has the licence of its Sydney’s Barangaroo Casino jeopardized after senior executives confessed that the operator had been used as a vehicle for money laundering by criminal organisations. Furthermore, the Crown’s confession raised the question of why were the Australian regulators ignorant of the gambling giant’s major failures.
Victorian Gambling Watchdog Blamed for Doing Nothing about Regulating the Industry
Tony Robinson, the former gaming minister in the state of Victoria, commented on the absurd situation, saying that the state’s regulatory body has spent years while being “asleep at the wheel”.
Mr Robinson reminded that the first and most important objective of the Casino Control Act of the state of Victoria is to establish a system for the control, supervision and licensing of casino operations in order to make sure they are not associated with criminal influence or exploitation. He further shared that the authorities do not need to be presented with an overwhelming case proving the influence of criminal organisations.
The long-time Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGR) advocate Tim Costello also criticised the Victorian gambling regulatory body for its failure to guarantee crime-free casino operation. He shared that it is a commonly-known fact that casinos around the world are targeted by various organisations associated with crime, money laundering, people trafficking, drugs, etc., and this is exactly what happened in the state of Victoria without the regulator even trying to prevent it.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation and the other gambling regulators have faced a wave of criticism for being basically incapable of regulating the industry. Local watchdogs were blamed for being unable to discover the illegal activities, which could be described as a major regulatory failure but in a written response to the Australian media hub ABC, the chief executive officer of the VCGLR, Catherine Myers, rejected the claims.
Furthermore, the VCGLR reminded that it cooperated with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (AUSTRAC), the anti-money laundering agency and the Federal police, with consultations with these agencies indicating that Crown was compliant with the legislative rules it was supposed to follow. However, junket operators associated with criminal organisations were partnering with Crown, bringing massive gambling revenue to the Melbourne casino of the gambling giant.
Victorian Premier Says Crown Resorts Will Not Lose Its Operating Licence
Despite all the pressure faced by the company and gambling regulatory bodies, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who once was a minister of gaming, publicly stated that there is no chance for Crown Resorts to lose its operating licence of the Melbourne casino venue.
After Crown’s confessions that money laundering had actually occurred at its gambling venues in Melbourne and Perth, Mr Andrews was approached with questions on whether there was any possibility for the gambling operator’s licences to be revoked or suspended. The Premier’s answer was categorical, with him rejecting such possibility.
At the beginning of October, the gambling watchdog in the state of Victoria released a statement, saying that it had requested Crown to provide an explanation for its ties with junket operators with alleged links to criminal organisations. As revealed by the VCGLR, a potential disciplinary action against the company may end up with a fine being imposed, a letter of censure, or directions issued for Crown to correct its actions.
According to analysts, one of the main reasons for the Victorian gambling regulatory body’s unwillingness to consider suspension or revocation of Crown’s operating licence is the fact that the company plays an important role in the economy of both the state and the city of Melbourne. Currently, Crown Resorts is the biggest single-site employer of the territory of the state and provides thousands of jobs and massive gambling tax revenue to the Government.