China hands Australia's Crown Resorts employees short jail terms for promoting gambling

The Crown casino in Melbourne. Crown does not directly run casinos in China but it relies heavily on Chinese gamblers at its Australian operations,
The Crown casino in Melbourne. Crown does not directly run casinos in China but it relies heavily on Chinese gamblers at its Australian operations, PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A Chinese court handed short jail terms to three Australian employees of Crown Resorts Ltd in a quick-fire trial following a lengthy probe into how the firm lured Chinese high-rollers to its casinos.  

The Australian consul general in Shanghai told reporters at the Baoshan District Court that Crown’s head of international VIP gambling Jason O’Connor was given a 10-month sentence. Two other Australians were handed nine-month sentences.  

The sentences would run from the date the employees were first detained on Oct 14 last year, meaning they would only have a couple of months left to serve, the consul said. A lawyer for the defendants said they were “satisfied with the result”.  

The three Australian citizens, along with 16 other defendants, were formally charged earlier this month, having been first detained late last year. Zhai Jian, a lawyer for the defendants, said all had pleaded guilty.  

Billionaire James Packer has a 49 per cent stake in Melbourne-based Crown.  

The case – part of a wider crackdown on gambling in China - has forced Crown to tear up its strategy of luring wealthy Chinese to the casino hub in the Chinese territory of Macau and instead shift its focus back home.  

At the end of a swift trial that began only on Monday (June 26) morning, relatives and lawyers were whisked away.  Journalists had been barred from attending the actual proceedings.

 Crown does not directly run casinos in China. But it relies heavily on Chinese gamblers at its Australian operations, as it had done in Macau until last month when it sold its remaining stake in Macau-focused Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd for US$1.16 billion (S$1.6 billion).  

Beijing has been cracking down on attempts by casinos to woo high-spending Chinese gamblers within China. In 2015, 13 South Korean casino managers were arrested in China for offering Chinese gamblers free tours, free hotels and sexual services.  

The trial is the latest in a series of high-profile cases in China involving foreign firms. British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline was fined nearly US$500 million in 2014 and food maker OSI saw its employees jailed last year.