More Australian Casinos Face Accusations of Violating Regulations, Working With Junkets

First it was Crown Resorts, then it was Star Entertainment. Now, other casinos in Queensland face accusations they violated regulations, but regulators aren’t ready to launch a widespread investigation into the industry.

Ville Resort-Casino CEO Michael Jones outside the resort’s swim-up bar. The property and another in Queensland, Australia, face accusations they illegally worked with a junket operator. (Image: Townsville Bulletin)

The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes, the same media trio that brought to the surface the scandals at Crown and Star, have done it again. They investigated, on separate occasions, The Ville in Townsville and the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns. They found both working with at least one junket operator.

The casinos allegedly gave Lawrence Fu, a local businessman, cash and casino credit in order to bring Asian gamblers to the properties. This is in violation of Queensland’s Casino Control Act since Fu is not a recognized junket operator by the government.

Two Casinos Under Investigation

As a result of the media exposé, The Ville and The Reef have come into the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) crosshairs. The latter is jointly owned by Casinos Austria International Limited and Accor Casino Investments (Australia).

For years, the relationship between junkets and casinos has been strained, but the gambling promoters are still legal in Queensland. However, those in charge of the junket must receive approval from the state’s government.

In the case of Fu, this never happened. Instead, The Ville and the Reef took advantage of the fallout from the Crown and Star investigations to boost their positions.

As scrutiny of the two largest casino companies in Australia continued, the Asian consumer segment began looking for new alternatives. This was the golden opportunity The Ville and the Reef were looking for, according to the media outlets.

The CEO of The Ville, Michael Jones, allegedly worked to bring in Fu and possibly another individual, Paul Desmond, to act as unofficial junkets. Desmond, who claims he never fulfilled any activity as a junket, provided a sworn statement to the OLGR about his conversations with Jones.

Fu admitted that he took groups of “friends” to The Ville. He also acknowledged that he has received cash and other benefits from the property. However, he said there was no link between the two.

Broader Investigation Needed

For now, the OLGR is only conducting an informal inquiry. This is partly because of the state resources focused on the Star. The scope of that investigation only encompasses that operator and cannot expand to address others.

The Queensland inquiry must be broadened to shine a light on the Cairns and Townsville casinos and determine the extent to which the authorities were prepared to turn their back to suspicious behaviour,” said Transparency International Australia CEO Clancy Moore.

That might change, however. In light of the new revelations of alleged wrongdoing, calls for a broader investigation into Australian casinos are getting louder. Transparency International, a global anti-corruption group, and Australian gambling reform campaigner Tim Costello want the government to do more.

For now, Queensland isn’t responding. Instead, it will conduct its investigation behind closed doors to determine if more action is needed.

Both casinos have denied any wrongdoing. However, the Ville said the media outlets’ exposé contained a number of factual errors, which it will demonstrate during the inquiry.

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