Crown attacks Aussie lawmaker over casino misconduct allegations

Crown Resorts Ltd., controlled by billionaire James Packer, has used an open letter to label allegations made by an Australian lawmaker that it skirted anti-money laundering rules and tampered with slot machines as unfair and unfounded.

“I am angered and disappointed by the outrageous allegations that have been leveled at us by Andrew Wilkie,” Crown Executive Chairman John Alexander said in the letter. “If he believes he has evidence of wrongdoing, he should stop the political games, step out of the parliament and make his claims without privilege.”

Crown, which is emerging from a legal scandal in China that prompted a retreat from its international operations, now faces regulatory and police probes at home after Wilkie on Wednesday tabled the allegations, made by three whistleblowers who identified themselves as former staff of the company’s Melbourne casino. The identities of the three men were heavily disguised through image pixelation and voice altering.

The whistleblowers said some Crown slot machines, commonly referred to as poker machines in Australia, were adjusted to allow buttons to remain pressed down to continuously generate bets at its Melbourne casino, against Victorian state laws. Some buttons were disabled to reduce the choice of consumers as to how much they bet, prompting the state’s casino regulator to order fixes, they said.

They also alleged they were instructed to use different player ID cards when processing transactions above AUD10,000 (USD7,817) to avoid money-laundering oversight.

The nation’s financial crimes agency Austrac and the Victorian gambling regulator have said they are investigating the claims, while Australian Federal Police is evaluating allegations and material referred to it by Wilkie.

“Crown operates in a strictly regulated environment, with multiple government agencies and state law enforcement bodies supervising our operations,” Alexander said in the letter. “We have a sophisticated anti-money- laundering program and we take compliance with Austrac requirements very seriously.”

The allegations are the latest setback for Melbourne-based Crown, which is now relying on domestic revenue to boost earnings. Its overseas strategy fell apart in the wake of a crackdown on its Chinese operations that saw some staff convicted in China in June of illegally promoting gambling. Packer, 50, returned to the company’s board this year and closed most of its Asian offices to focus on profitable casinos in Australia.

Packer said in an interview published in the Weekend Australian on Saturday that he had “little choice” but to withdraw from Macau after the arrests in China and felt “let down” over the scandal.

“Crown’s experience in China has been very profitable but ended in a very embarrassing way,” Packer said, according to the newspaper.

Requests for comment to Wilkie’s spokesman on Saturday weren’t immediately responded to. Jason Scott, Bloomberg

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