China formally arrests three Crown Resorts employees on suspicion of gambling offences

The Crown Perth hotel and casino complex in Western Australia.
The Crown Perth hotel and casino complex in Western Australia.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian officials have met the three Crown Resorts Ltd employees detained in China since mid-October, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, after the trio were formally arrested on suspicion of gambling offences.

Australian officials visited their three nationals - part of a larger group of 17 Crown employees in detention - in Shanghai, Ms Bishop told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday (Nov 23).

"We were able to provide advice and support. We provided messages from their families. There is an anti-corruption agenda of President Xi Jinping and gambling is one of the areas of interest, so we are subject to the laws of China."

The consular visit comes a day after the Australian authorities confirmed that three nationals, including Crown's head of international VIP gambling, Mr Jason O'Connor, had been arrested.

Eighteen Crown employees were initially detained, but one has since been released, Crown said last week. The fate of the other 14 is not clear.

Crown did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The detention of the Crown employees has sparked concern about a wider crackdown on gambling in China.

Analysts have linked the detentions - which sent Crown's share price tumbling - to Chinese laws banning casinos from advertising or promoting gambling on the Chinese mainland, for instance by offering credit to high-spending clients.

In October, Crown said "less than half" its international VIP revenue, or about 12 per cent of total revenue, came from Chinese high-rollers.