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SkyCity gambling traders have played their last hand

- LACHLAN MOFFET GRAY

ADELAIDE Casino will cease dealing with internatio­nal gambling tour operators – or “junkets” – after an inquiry into Crown Resorts raised alarm about their links to organised crime and money laundering.

In a statement, the $2.4bn New Zealand-based SkyCity, which owns and operates casinos in Adelaide, Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown, said it would cut loose junkets.

“The SkyCity board has determined to permanentl­y cease dealing with all junket operators, effective immediatel­y, and continue to operate its internatio­nal business division under a revised operating model,” it said yesterday.

“Under the revised operating model, SkyCity will deal directly with internatio­nal business patrons after appropriat­e know-your-customer and due diligence requiremen­ts are satisfied. SkyCity will consult with its gaming regulators in New Zealand and South Australia in relation to its revised operating model.”

Junkets typically arrange travel and accommodat­ion for VIP clients, mostly from Asia, and handle remittance for the gambling debts they incur, usually in exchange for a fraction of their turnover.

They have been favoured by casino operators in Australia for externalis­ing the risk of attracting clients from China, where promoting gambling to its citizens is a criminal offence and collecting gambling debts is difficult due to capital controls.

But the NSW Bergin inquiry into the James Packer-backed casino giant Crown Resorts highlighte­d the risk of infiltrati­on of junkets by organised crime, with financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC saying last year they are vulnerable “multiple criminal threats”.

SkyCity’s move to ban junkets also comes after the company and Xiongming Xie, a Chinese junket operator, was hit with a $4.84m lawsuit by Chinese high-roller Linong Ma in March.

Mr Ma claims that during a junket tour arranged by Mr Xie to SkyCity Adelaide in 2019, he won more than $5m, most of which was remitted by SkyCity to Mr Xie, who allegedly retained the money.

In a statement of claim to the SA Supreme Court Mr Ma claimed he was a victim of to

“fraud” on the part of Mr Xie and “negligence” by SkyCity.

He also said Mr Xie was arrested in Sydney in July 2019 and charged with assault.

State Treasurer Rob Lucas said the government would consider the Bergin Report’s findings and recommenda­tions from royal commission­s in Victoria and Western Australia into Crown Casino’s operations.

“Liquor & Gambling inspectors continue to undertake daily inspection­s into SkyCity’s operations to ensure compliance with its regulatory responsibi­lities,” he said.

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