Inquiry: Star Entertainment Waited Years to Ban Gambler Tied to Organized Crime

  • Star Entertainment admits failure to recognize customer’s alleged criminal ties
  • “Person 2” became a top ten table games player at The Star Gold Coast
  • Executives say updated policies would catch similar cases today
  • Star disguised casino payments from Chinese debit cards as hotel purchases
The Star Gold Coast
An inquiry revealed that The Star Entertainment allowed individuals with alleged criminal ties to gamble at their Queensland casinos for years, despite bans at other resorts in Australia. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Inquiry highlights “Person 2”

Executives with The Star Entertainment Group have admitted that the company allowed gamblers with criminal ties to gamble at its Brisbane and Gold Coast casinos for far too long before banning them.

That admission came during the ongoing Queensland inquiry into whether Star should keep its casino licenses in the Australian state.

Star didn’t ban them from their Queensland casinos until January 2021

On Thursday, the inquiry discussed the case of “Person 2,” an unnamed gambler with suspected ties to the Italian criminal network known as ‘Ndrangheta. Casinos in Victoria and New South Wales banned the individual from playing in 2014 and 2015, respectively. However, Star didn’t ban them from its Queensland casinos until January 2021.

Star executives told regulators that a series of blunders prevented the company from banning Person 2 and others like them. The casinos spelled the individual’s name differently in their records than in media reports about their criminal exploits, meaning that Star’s anti-money laundering system never made the connection. Star’s anti-money laundering team might have still realized Person 2’s alleged criminal connections, but often couldn’t read media articles about its high rollers because it didn’t have subscriptions to major publications.

Ultimately, Person 2 would become one of the top ten table games players at The Star Gold Coast.

New policies in place

While Star executives admitted that the company should have banned Person 2 far sooner for a number of reasons, they told the inquiry that such mistakes wouldn’t happen under their leadership today. Star interim chief executive Geoff Hogg said that he wasn’t involved in discussions regarding anti-money laundering investigations at the time.

“I do think in hindsight, looking at our processes, our review and our policies, they were not as strong as they should have been,” Hogg told the inquiry. “That material was concerning to read. I can understand why some of the investigative stuff had not been shared [with me], but when you read it, you certainly wish you had been informed.”

current policies would trigger background checks on customers like Person 2

Star anti-money laundering general manager Howard Steiner told the inquiry that current policies would trigger background checks on customers like Person 2. In addition, Star casinos now recognize exclusion orders from interstate police commissioners, not just those in Queensland.

Steiner and Hogg were the final witnesses in an inquiry that began on Tuesday. Queensland regulators are examining allegations over whether Star Entertainment ignored money laundering and criminal infiltration at its properties in the state.

Star Entertainment under fire

The inquiry has produced other revelations as well. Star executives admitted that it changed policies to hide AU$55m (US$38.35m) in prohibited gambling transactions for China UnionPay cardholders. The company allowed cardholders to withdraw cash at casinos while recording the transactions as “hotel purchases” in order to get around UnionPay restrictions.

Star Entertainment is also facing heat outside of the inquiry. An ABC News investigation revealed that Hong Kong-based company Chow Tai Fook, a major shareholder in Star’s Queen’s Wharf Brisbane casino development, has longstanding ties to organized crime in China.

Former Appeal Court judge Robert Gotterson, who is leading the inquiry, will release his recommendations to Queensland regulators at a later date.