China said to have warned Crown, other casino operators, last year about targeting mainland high rollers

Australian diplomats visit suspects detained in China gambling probe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 11:45pm

Chinese authorities warned Crown Resorts last year to halt its efforts to attract high rollers from the mainland to gamble overseas, according to a person familiar with the government’s move to detain 18 of the Melbourne-based company’s employees.

Australian diplomats have visited two citizens detained in Shanghai as part of the Chinese police probe into Crown Resorts, Australia’s largest casino operator.

Crown Resort shares post record fall as China detains casino staff

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement on Tuesday that consular officials visited two Australian Crown Resorts employees who have been detained and have asked to visit a third. Bishop did not provide details about the employees’ conditions or the Chinese investigation.

Three Australians and 15 Chinese Crown Resorts employees have been detained since last Thursday and questioned for suspected involvement in gambling crimes.

Although charges have not been announced, industry analysts speculate that the case could stem from Crown Resorts’ efforts to lure high-rolling Chinese gamblers to its overseas casinos.

Crown Resorts was among the companies that received warnings after China arrested employees last summer at South Korean casino operators Paradise and Grand Korea Leisure, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the probe is confidential.

Three Australians among 18 Crown Resorts staff held in mainland

After the warning, Chinese authorities observed that Crown Resorts had senior executives make short business trips to China instead of spending long periods in the country, the person said. They also noted that the company shifted its marketing activities to focus more on resorts than casinos. Authorities don’t perceive those actions as amounting to a material change in Crown’s activities, the person added.

A spokeswoman for Crown Resorts in Melbourne declined to comment on any warning given to the company by Chinese authorities. Faxed questions to China’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees law enforcement activities, were not immediately answered.

China hasn’t specified any charges, and it hasn’t been possible to contact any of those detained. The detention and charges will not automatically lead to a prosecution.

Bloomberg and Associated Press