Victoria’s casino regulator did not attempt to interview Crown Resorts staff who were arrested and imprisoned in China for illegally promoting gambling until after one of them appeared on television two years into the watchdog’s investigation.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation’s annual report, tabled in state parliament on Thursday, lays bare the lack of progress in the investigation, which has been underway since 2017 and is still not complete.
It is likely to further alarm critics of the regulator, who have derided it as a “toothless tiger” that is captured by Crown and “worse than useless”.
VCGLR staff only attempted to interview Crown staff who were arrested in China after serious allegations, including that organised crime was involved in junkets that bring high rollers to the group’s casinos, were aired by Nine Entertainment outlets in July 2019.
The regulator is responsible for oversight of Crown’s biggest casino, in Melbourne, which an inquiry in NSW has heard included one junket, Suncity, allegedly linked to organised crime gangs.
Nineteen Crown staff were arrested by Chinese authorities in 2016 and subsequently convicted of illegally promoting gambling. One of the Crown employees, Jenny Jiang, was heavily featured on Nine’s TV current affairs show, 60 Minutes, and in the media groups’ newspaper coverage.
A VCGLR spokeswoman told Guardian Australia that the regulator was on the brink of finalising the investigation when Nine’s reports were published.
“In mid-2019, VCGLR provided a draft investigation report to Crown to provide it the opportunity to respond,” she said.
“Shortly after, in July 2019, a series of media reports were published regarding Crown, which also related to the circumstances surrounding the detention and imprisonment of Crown staff in China.
“Accordingly, the VCGLR’s investigation needed to assess whether that information was relevant to, or otherwise impacted this investigation, and needed to endeavour to collect any additional relevant information and evidence.”
The VCGLR has been further delayed because Crown initially refused to release a large number of documents relating to it, citing legal professional privilege, the authority said in the report.
But this year “Crown informed the commission that it intended to waive its legal professional privilege over a large amount of material it had previously declined to provide,” the VCGLR said in its annual report.
“Our investigation therefore continues, noting the new material we received was voluminous. We have also pursued other lines of inquiry in an endeavour to collect any additional relevant information and evidence to inform and conclude our investigation.”
VCGLR said it was also consulting with Crown and Australia’s financial crime intelligence agency, Austrac, to tighten the casino’s tracing of “the source of funds and wealth of individuals involved in junket and premium player arrangements”.
VCGLR has concluded a separate inquiry into the allegations raised by Nine Entertainment. Earlier this month it sent show cause notices to Crown, accusing the group of failing to control junket operators and asking it why it should not be found to have breached gambling laws.
The annual report also reveals that VCGLR itself has failed to meet recommendations made by the Victorian auditor general’s office three years ago, and reinforced in a follow-up report issued by the auditor general last year.
Of the 13 recommendations made in 2017, five have still not been fully implemented.
The auditor general’s recommendations that remain on foot include one requiring it to improve supervision of the casino “by defining key risks regarding casino operations and linking regulatory work performed by VCGLR and other co-regulators to mitigate such risks”.