SkyCity Dumps Junkets in Face of Australian Regulatory Pressure

Posted on: April 13, 2021, 03:56h. 

Last updated on: April 13, 2021, 04:25h.

New Zealand’s SkyCity Entertainment Group said in a note to the ASX Monday that it would permanently sever business ties with junket operators.

SkyCity’s flagship property in Auckland, New Zealand. The company also operates a casino in Adelaide, Australia. (Image: Inside Asian Gaming)

The company explained it had taken the decision, effective immediately, following a strategic review of its International Business division.

SkyCity launched the review as a reaction to the explosive findings of the Bergin Inquiry, which scrutinized Crown Resorts’ licensing suitability in New South Wales.

Crown Bombshell

The inquiry ultimately concluded that Crown was unfit to hold a gaming license. That’s because it had partnered with junket operators based in Macau and elsewhere that were backed by organized crime syndicates. These included triad-controlled drug trafficking and money-laundering groups.

Moreover, because Crown had failed to rigorously enforce its anti-money laundering controls, proceeds of crime had been washed through its VIP operations, notably via the accounts of two of its subsidiaries, Southbank and Riverbank.

The Bergin report recommended that junkets should be banned in New South Wales, although the state’s legislative council has yet to take these steps. The state of Western Australia, however, has already opted to enforce a junket ban of its own.

Crown has also severed ties with the junkets, but did so only in the latter stages of the Bergin Inquiry, when it realized its NSW license was hanging by a thread, and by then it was too late.

Sparked by the report’s findings, two more inquiries into Crown’s VIP operations are underway in Melbourne, Victoria, and Perth, Western Australia.

SkyCity does not operate casinos in these jurisdictions. But it does own the SkyCity Adelaide, in South Australia (SA), its only Australian property.

Missing $4.84 Million

Currently, there are no plans for the SA government to investigate SkyCity’s own relationship with the junkets. But last month, Member of Legislative Council of SA (MLC) Connie Bonaros demanded the company be held to the same level of scrutiny.

She cited the case of wealthy Chinese gambler Linong Ma, who is suing SkyCity and two junket operators for A$4.84 million (US$3.75 million) in missing casino winnings.

Ma claims in his lawsuit that one of the junket operators, Xiongming Xie, has links to organized crime and robbed him of his winnings while he was on a junket trip to SkyCity Adelaide.

He is suing both junket operators for fraud and the casino for negligence because it allegedly transferred most of the money to Xie after Ma had left it in a security box at the casino.

The state government’s reluctance to investigate the casino [in Adelaide] disturbs me greatly, particularly given the allegations of questionable junket operators frequenting the facility with their guests,” said Bonaros.

In its ASX filing, SkyCity said it would place its international business under a revised operating model that will see it “deal directly with International Business patrons after appropriate Know Your Customer (KYC) and customer due diligence requirements are satisfied.”

In New Zealand, where it operates casinos in Auckland, Hamilton, and Wellington, it said it would seek guidance from the relevant local gaming regulators.