- In short: Crown Resorts has admitted to breaching money laundering laws, and faces one of Australia’s largest corporate fines
- What’s next: Justice Michael Lee will determine the fine, but says he is unhappy with elements of a $450-million proposal
Carrying wads of cash in a cooler bag, a man nicknamed Customer 24 walked into Crown Casino in Melbourne and started handing money out to people inside a VIP high-roller room.
On other occasions, people ferried cash through the casino’s Suncity room in suitcases, brown paper bags and shoeboxes.
Those were among the 75 “suspicious” incidents in the Suncity room between 2016 and 2018, and the nation’s money laundering watchdog alleges Crown largely turned a blind eye to them.
According to court documents, it was only a glimpse into broader failings at Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.
The gambling giant has admitted it did not properly assess, identify and respond to money laundering risks while doing business with overseas gambling junkets that brought in billions of dollars in turnover.
Those legal breaches could see the gambling giant hit with the third-largest fine in Australian corporate history, following penalties paid by Westpac ($1.3 billion) and the Commonwealth Bank ($700 million).
Crown and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) believe a $450 million fine is suitable, but it is up to the Federal Court justice Michael Lee to determine the final payout.
Arranged penalty ‘misleading’
On Monday, the Federal Court in Sydney heard both sides had agreed to a proposal where $125 million would be paid immediately, another $125 million paid within a year, and the final instalment of $200 million to be paid in two years.
However, Justice Lee described the parties’ proposal as “misleading”, given Crown would effectively receive a discount of around $50 million because the two-year payment plan was interest-free.
“For $40-odd million you can even buy a house in the Eastern suburbs,” Justice Lee quipped, prompting laughter in the courtroom.
Crown barrister Philip Crutchfield KC urged the judge not to “interfere” with the agreement, although he conceded the net present value of the $450 million fine would be less after two years.
“We would not have entered into this agreement without this payment plan, because we can’t afford to pay more than what we’ve agreed,” he said.
“One doesn’t want to set terms of penalties so high that you deter the blue-chip operators from an industry that will operate — human history shows — whether it’s lawful or not.”
Justice Lee is yet to make a final ruling on the penalty and adjourned the hearing to Tuesday morning.
Junket tours banned
The junket tours, which resulted in huge amounts of money being gambled, have long been viewed by law enforcement agencies as a way for organised crime syndicates to wash so-called “dirty” money from illegal activities.
Crown no longer does business with the junket operators, and the tours were banned by the Victorian Government last year.
In a statement of agreed facts, Crown admitted it failed to carry out due diligence on 505 customers, 60 of whom gambled more than $70 billion.
Crown collected $1.246 billion in revenue from their activities.
“The more successful the junkets were in luring big rollers, the more money Crown made,” Justice Lee said.
According to court documents, Customer 24 was among a list of “high risk” gamblers, and he was later arrested in connection with a money laundering investigation.
But Customer 24 was only a minor player compared to Alvin Chau, the one-time chief executive of the Suncity junket.
Court documents show Suncity facilitated 252 trips to Australia which resulted in $22.2 billion of gambling turnover at Crown Melbourne and Perth between 2016 and 2020.
In 2019, Chau was denied entry to Australia over money laundering allegations and was this year sentenced to 18 years in prison in Macau for tax avoidance.
‘Failings of the past’
In the wake of its money laundering scandal, Crown Resorts said it took its legal responsibilities seriously and wanted to rectify “failings of the past”.
The company has been found unsuitable to hold casino licences in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales after two royal commissions and a judge-led inquiry.
Crown was last year fined more than $100 million by Victorian authorities for breaches of responsible gambling requirements, after findings that it allowed some customers to gamble for more than 24 hours straight.
In 2022, Crown was purchased for $8.9 billion by global private equity group Blackstone, resulting in a $3.6 billion payday for former boss James Packer.
George Barham, an accomplished journalist and avid gambling enthusiast, serves as the esteemed Editor-in-Chief at fly-to-australia.com, Australia’s leading source for comprehensive gambling news and insights. With an unwavering passion for both the written word and the ever-evolving world of betting and gaming, George brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the helm of our editorial team.