About $38M in funds

Inquiry into The Star's Queensland casinos launched; company allegedly disguised millions in gambling funds as room charges

The Star Treasury Brisbane & The Star Gold Coast in Queensland.
Reading time 2:50 min

Star Entertainment Group is currently under an inquiry set to explore the company’s suitability to hold a license for its Queensland properties. The Star has allegedly disguised AUD 55 million ($38 million) in gambling funds used in its venues in that Australian jurisdiction by Chinese high-rollers as room and entertainment charges to avoid scrutiny from regulators, the inquiry heard.

The investigation concerns Star’s Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane casinos, but not its under-construction Queen’s Wharf casino. The inquiry, held in Brisbane Magistrates Court, is being overseen by retired Appeal Court Robert Gotterson. 

Public hearings kicked off on Tuesday, with counsel assisting Jonathan Horton QC telling the inquiry it would also hear evidence about certain gamblers being lured to the Sunshine State after being excluded from venues in New South Wales and Victoria

Former Appeal Court Robert Gotterson.

A simultaneous NSW inquiry has heard evidence from senior executives and directors being questioned about misleading conduct, VIP junkets, and failures to manage anti-money laundering risks. 

The allegations to be investigated in Queensland follow similar patterns to the NSW inquiry, and include a claim that Chinese money went through Star casinos via China UnionPay, a Shanghai-based financial provider offering bank cards and major card schemes. 

Horton told the inquiry Star stood accused of facilitating gambling for Chinese clients, despite Chinese currency restrictions and those put in place by the National Australia Bank (NAB), which handles Star’s accounts, Brisbane Times reports.

“The Star would suggest a process involving patrons using the terminals to debit funds from their China UnionPay card to credit their hotel account," he alleged, as reported by the cited source. “The patron would then take a receipt of their hotel credit to the cage, accompanied by a VIP executive host, and exchange it for cash or chips."

The effect of this move allegedly was that all charges on the China UnionPay card appeared as hotel and general expenses, when it was used, or intended to be used, for gambling, according to Horton. 

In 2019, NAB asked for proof of certain clients’ activities, and Star’s alleged response did not indicate any money was used for gambling. In 2020, further information was requested on Chinese-related transactions, and the company’s response again did not indicate any involvement of funds for gambling. Star then told NAB it would cease accepting China UnionPay

However, Horton told the inquiry that about AUD 55 million were spent at The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane using the China UnionPay method. “This is less than seems to be the case in New South Wales," he stated.

Other areas the inquiry will explore are related to people who were excluded from Star’s NSW venues by order of NSW police, who were then allegedly offered incentives to go to Star’s Queensland venues instead.

High-risk gamblers were “actively encouraged” to travel to Queensland to gamble, even though “red flags existed, which ought to have led to their exclusion, let alone not inducing the person to be here," Horton stated, according to ABC Australia

The Star Gold Coast in Queensland.

Horton added that there seemed to have been “very serious problems” in terms of inducements for “high value, high-risk customers." He explained that some of them “on no view should have been invited to come to Queensland," given the “unavoidable suspicions that would arise about their involvement in criminal activity, the source of their money and the fact of exclusion and treatment elsewhere in other jurisdictions." 

VIP junket operators will also be under scrutiny during the inquiry. Following 60 Minutes reports concerning alleged links between money laundering and VIP junkets in Melbourne, Queensland’s Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulator did an investigation that found five junkets that were "of concern." 

Meanwhile, the second section of the review will provide advice to the Attorney-General relating to the ongoing suitability of the Star Group to hold a casino license. “We will not in the course of this be investigating suitability as such," Horton stated. 

“The wider legislative regime puts those questions firmly with the Attorney-General and ultimately the governor in council," he explained. However, this doesn’t mean that the inquiry's work will not be relevant to the assessment of suitability, "and that aspect of things is certainly not lost on us as counsel assisting," Horton added, as reported by ABC

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