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September 25, 2017

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Aus. casino staff detained in China gambling probe

BEIJING--The major shareholder in Australia's largest casino operator voiced concerns on Tuesday after the Chinese government announced that a senior executive and two other Australians had been detained in an investigation of suspected gambling crimes, in an apparent crackdown on overseas tours for high rollers.

The head of Crown Resorts Ltd.'s VIP International team, Jason O'Connor, is believed to be one of 18 Crown employees being questioned by Chinese authorities, the company said in a statement on Monday to the Australian Securities Exchange.

James Packer, an Australian gaming mogul with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes business magazine at US$3.6 billion, said on Tuesday that he had sought regular updates on the detentions and had asked Crown to do everything possible to contact the employees and to support their families.

"As the major shareholder of Crown Resorts, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of those Crown employees detained in China," Packer said in a statement.

"Crown will do whatever it can to support our employees and their families at this difficult time. Our number one priority is to be able to make contact and to ensure they are all safe," added Packer, who founded the Australian casino operator.

Packer said he was respectful that the detentions had occurred outside Australia and were subject to Chinese rules and investigative processes.

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a regular briefing on Monday that Australians have been detained in Shanghai for suspected involvement in gambling crimes, but did not provide further details.

Fairfax Media reported over the weekend that police took the three Australians, who were visiting China on business, and local Chinese employees based in several Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, away from their homes late Thursday and detained them. O'Connor was among the Australians.

The raids were part of an apparent crackdown on the firm's operations to lure high-worth Chinese gamblers to its Australian casinos, Fairfax said.

Casino gambling is illegal on the mainland and Chinese law prohibits agents from organizing groups of more than 10 Chinese citizens to gamble abroad. The crime is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The industry has been known to skirt the ban by touting destination packages.

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