The chair of the Risk, Compliance and Regulatory Performance committee within The Star Entertainment’s board of directors, Ben Heap, has rejected the claims that the board deliberately misled its shareholders in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) issued in 2021 after media reports that the gambling giant was allowing alleged organised crime and money laundering activities through its VIP services.
Mr Heap, who appeared before NSW’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) as part of the regulator’s inquiry to determine whether the Australian gambling company is fit to hold its Sydney casino licence, had to answer questions regarding the board of directors’ response to the aforementioned allegations.
The investigators particularly inquired about a statement to the ASX that The Star Entertainment issued on October 10th, 2021 after a number of local media outlets, including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes, came up with some claims that the junket business of the gambling operator took advantage of affluent Chinese gamblers who were allegedly linked to foreign criminal organisations.
Casper Conde, one of the counsels assisting the inquiry, asked Mr Heap whether the board took the allegations it currently faces seriously, especially considering the fact that The Star Entertainment had previously described some of the assertions made by the three media outlets as “misleading”.
The head of the Risk, Compliance and Regulatory Performance committee shared that, in his opinion, the company had been trying to make it clear to the market that The Star Entertainment had not accepted all of the findings. Mr Heap further noted that the gambling company’s board had been trying to make sure that the market understood that it had not fully agreed with the media assertions and to make clear that it had intended to work with the Adam Bell SC-led inquiry in terms of addressing the issues.
Media Reports Sought Sensationalism and Featured Some Inaccuracies, Mr Heap Claims
Mr Heap noted that The Star Entertainment’s board preferred not to define the assertions it found accurate and had earlier told the investigators that he had accepted the media hubs’ allegations as “substantively accurate”.
As previously reported by Casino Guardian, the three media hubs named a number of high-roller gamblers, who were regular customers of The Star Entertainment’s casino venues in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, including not only Australia-based casino patrons but also Chinese players, several of whom known for their alleged links to criminal organisations.
The ASX statement that the Australian gambling giant issued at the time said that the operator would address all allegations with the competent federal and state regulators and authorities appropriately. Furthermore, Mr Heap told the investigators there was a level of sensationalism and some inaccuracies in the respective media articles, especially when it comes to the use of China Union Pay (CUP) credit and debit cards used for gambling transactions at The Star Entertainment’s Casinos. The board’s point of view was not reflected in the articles, as well.
The three media outlets’ investigation revealed that CUP cards were being used by Chinese high-roller gamblers at The Star Entertainment’s casinos in the period from 2014 to 2018 but the transactions were masked as accommodation and hospitality payments because using the cards for gambling payments was illegal. According to the investigation, the cards were still in use until early 2020. Mr Heap revealed for the inquiry that by the time the articles were published, he was already informed about the practice.