Former Crown Resorts Exec Jason O’Connor, Once Jailed in China for ‘Gambling Crimes,’ Finally Breaks Silence

Posted on: September 3, 2020, 10:39h. 

Last updated on: September 3, 2020, 12:18h.

Jason O’Connor, the former executive vice president of Crown Resort’s VIP International division, has spoken publicly for the first time about his arrest and imprisonment in China in 2016 for “gambling crimes.”

Jason O’Connor Talks China Arrest
Jason O’Connor pictured shortly after his release from a Shanghai jail in August 2017. (Herald Sun)

O’Connor was among 19 employees and former employees of the Australian casino giant who were detained by Chinese authorities for marketing Crown’s services to residents of mainland China, where gambling is illegal. O’Connor spent 18 months in prison in Shanghai.

The arrests severely embarrassed Crown and had a devastating impact on its operations. VIP revenues were decimated in the months that followed, as Crown abandoned its strategy of recruiting Chinese high rollers to come to Australia to gamble.

The company was forced to tear up its international expansion plans, canceling a planned Las Vegas resort and relinquishing its interests in properties in Macau and the Philippines, which is held jointly with Melco Resorts.

Early Warnings

But according to O’Connor, the Crown should have realized that Chinese authorities were losing patience with its marketing exploits. The former executive told a licensing suitability hearing in Sydney Thursday that he had been warned as early as March 2014 that the company should pull its people off the mainland because of an imminent crackdown against gambling.

O’Connor said he had been warned by a VIP customer called Mr. Xu, who was well-connected with the Chinese government, that authorities planned to “arrest a lot of people” while targeting “anything to do with gambling or moving money out of the country.”

“From time to time, we did receive alarms or warnings, not quite of this nature, but of a similar nature,” O’Connor said. He added that it would be difficult to ask his bosses to “temper their expectations” of profits from China. These profits “may have blinkered” them to the risks involved, he suggested.

VIP Status

Thursday’s hearing was part of an ongoing public inquiry to determine Crown’s suitability to hold a license in the state of New South Wales.

The company has long been building a $2.2 billion property on the waterfront in Sydney, the state capital. But its suitability has been called into question after media reports alleged Crown had turned a blind eye to money laundering and to criminal elements within the junkets that organized gambling trips for Chinese high rollers.

The Sydney property was conceived prior to the Chinese crackdown as an exclusively VIP destination, with a 75-floor tower that will include 82 luxury apartments and a six-star hotel. But considering the sharp drop in high rollers since 2016, and the uncertainty surrounding international travel because of the coronavirus, some question whether the idea is still viable.