Casino mogul 'concerned' about staff held in China

SYDNEY • Australian gaming tycoon James Packer said yesterday he was "deeply concerned" about 18 of his Crown Resorts employees detained in Shanghai.

The marketing staff were seized in raids late last week, including an executive in charge of luring high rollers to Australia, with Beijing saying they had been "criminally detained... for suspected gambling offences".

Shares in Crown plunged more than 13 per cent on Monday but stabilised yesterday, rebounding 1.7 per cent to close at A$11.34.

"As the major shareholder of Crown Resorts, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of those Crown employees detained in China," said Mr Packer.

The Crown board held an emergency meeting via phone late on Monday amid reports that the Chinese police were preparing to charge the employees with organising gambling activities for Chinese nationals overseas. Gaming companies are not allowed to explicitly advertise gambling in China.

The Chinese authorities had warned Crown last year to halt its efforts to attract high rollers from China to gamble overseas, according to a person familiar with the govern- ment's move. The Sydney Morning Herald said speculation among industry insiders linked the crisis to an attempt by Crown to collect A$15 million (S$16 million) in gambling debts from a Chinese high roller at its Melbourne casino.

Speculation among industry insiders linked the Crown Resorts crisis to an attempt by the casino to collect a A$15 million gambling debt from a Chinese high roller at its Melbourne casino (left), says an Australian daily.
Speculation among industry insiders linked the Crown Resorts crisis to an attempt by the casino to collect a A$15 million gambling debt from a Chinese high roller at its Melbourne casino (above), says an Australian daily.  PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"I have sought regular updates on this issue, and have asked Crown to do everything possible to contact our employees and to support their families as we await further details from the Chinese authorities," Mr Packer said. "I am respectful that these detentions have occurred in another country, and are therefore subject to their sovereign rules and investigative processes."

Crown operates casinos across Australia and the world, including in Macau, where revenues have been hit hard by a Chinese crackdown on corruption that has driven away many big spenders.

Those being held include Crown's executive vice-president for VIP International, Mr Jason O'Connor, and two other Australians.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government had been notified of the detention and consular officials were making arrangements to visit the employees.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Casino mogul 'concerned' about staff held in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe