Aussie casino operator Crown Resorts is constantly in the news, but not in the way they’d like. Instead of positive stories about charitable donations or huge jackpots, it tends to involve government investigations or criminal behavior.

Luckily, most punters don’t care about the ethics of their local casino (as long as they’re not cheating the customers). However, the state and federal government does care from time to time, and even the largest gambling operators can be brought down by a sustained investigation.

Video Evidence

Since 2019, one of the biggest black eyes for Crown Resorts involves allegations of money laundering. Several whistleblower reports got things rolling, including a rather dramatic (and damning) piece of video evidence.

The video, believed to be taken at the Crown Melbourne, shows gamblers entering with bags full of cash. In some cases, dozens of bricks of $50 or $100 are passed to the cashier’s cage. The video originated from the casino’s security footage and eventually made its way into the hands of anti-gambling legislator Andrew Wilkie.

The whistleblowers are unknown, but the trio did provide a reason for their actions. According to one, “Anybody can walk in with any amount of money and launder it. Nobody really cares. They get to do what they want.”

They finished with a perfectly reasonable question. “If it was legit, why wasn’t it in the bank?”

Money Laundering Accounts

Upon closer investigation, a pair of dodgy bank accounts also came into view. ANZ and Commonwealth banks held the accounts, and they belonged to shell companies known as Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments. After a time, it became clear that the accounts belonged to Crown Resorts.

Beginning in 2013, VIP clients would deposit large sums into these accounts. Then, they would visit the casino to gamble. By law, high-risk money transfers are supposed to be reported to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre. Despite Crown having a team to oversee such things, the two accounts went unsupervised.

Various forms of money raining from the sky.

Additional PR Headaches

Say what you will about former Crown Resorts chairman James Packer, but he has an excellent sense of timing. Once he left the company to focus on mental health issues, the bad news started to roll in like a thunderstorm.

Here are just three of the notable public relations nightmares that have sprung up in the last few years:

  • Indonesian citizen Joseph Wong Kiia Tai gambled $6 million at the Crown Perth and Crown Melbourne from 2004 to 2015. Unfortunately, Tai was an arms dealer with business connections to Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. The United Nations placed him on a sanctions list, which was supposed to keep him from traveling.
  • Crown Resorts failed to sell 20% of their holdings to Asian tycoon Lawrence Ho. The deal was moving forward, but then an investigative report revealed that Ho had been a director in Lanceford Company Ltd. This happened to be one of 59 entities that Crown was barred from doing business with (due to its relation with the late billionaire Stanley Ho and his possible Triad connections).
  • Whistleblowers accused casino managers at Crown Melbourne of tampering with pokie machines. Management instructed staff to disable lower bet provisions, as well as enable prohibited autoplay. In both cases, this may have resulted in higher gambling losses. The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation is spearheading potential disciplinary actions.

Long Dark Cloud

Some industry insiders wonder if this might lead to an unprecedented penalty, especially with increased attention being devoted to the business practices of Crown Resorts. Most guilty casino operators receive a fine and public scolding, but these violations are reaching new heights.

In fact, they’re even threatening to endanger other ongoing projects. For example, regulators are beginning to get cold feet regarding Crown’s $2-billion casino project in New South Wales. It’s unlikely that the plug would be pulled, but every situation has its tipping point.

Additional Reading

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