Fri, Sep 6, 12:02pm by Staff Writer
A major shareholder in casino heavyweight Star Group has strong links to a Hong Kong businessman banned from any involvement in rival Crown’s new Barangaroo facility due to concerns about his links to organised crime.
The Age reports that the shareholder, a company called Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, is also a joint-venture partner with Star on its $3 billion Queen’s Wharf casino complex in Brisbane, due to open in 2022, and the $500 million Ritz Carlton development in Sydney.
Chow Tai Fook is controlled by Henry Cheng, whose family also holds a 9.6 per cent stake in SJM, the Macau gambling giant that Stanley Ho founded and of which he remains director.
Dr Cheng was on the board of SJM until June this year, when he was replaced by Chow Tai Fook chief executive Patrick Tsang On Yip.
As well as collaborating on the developments in a joint venture, Chow Tai Fook has bought a 5 per cent shareholding in Star and has flagged an intention to substantial increase that stake.
The company will need permission from the New South Wales gaming regulator to boost the stake while Queensland authorities have already approved the move.
Last week the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority announced it would hold an inquiry to examine whether Crown Resorts should be allowed to keep its Barangaroo casino licence after revelations James Packer agreed to sell a 20 per cent stake in Crown worth $1.7 billion to Hong Kong casino tycoon Lawrence Ho’s Melco Resorts.
Lawrence Ho is the son of Stanley Ho.
The NSW regulator has banned Crown from having any links to Stanley Ho as a licence condition for its new Barangaroo casino.
Justin Field, the independent MP whose questions in parliament helped prompt the public release of ILGA’s conditions on Crown, said there was a legitimate question to be asked about why Mr Ho and related business entities would be banned from having links with Crown but not with Star.
He said he was also concerned that the business model developed by Star and Crown appeared to rely upon a flow of high rollers from China and “at least in part, on dirty or questionable money.”
“There is scope within the Bergin Inquiry’s terms to consider these Star business relationships and the ‘extant and emerging risks for gaming’ generally and to recommend changes needed to address these risks.
I hope they will be considered,” he said.
The Star Entertainment connection to Stanley Ho gets a run internationally: https://t.co/s3bb8GAorN
— Stephen Mayne (@MayneReport) September 4, 2019
Asked if the company was concerned that the ties between Chow Tai Fook and Mr Ho might attract the attention of regulators in NSW, a spokesman for The Star Entertainment Group said: “Chow Tai Fook have completed extensive probity reviews and received regulator approval in Queensland.”
A spokesman for ILGA said the regulator had not received any application for the partnership to increase its holding in Star Entertainment Group to above 10 per cent.
“As is required under NSW law, any such application would undergo stringent probity, legal and financial checks,” he said.
“Under the NSW Casino Control Act, ILGA has responsibility to constantly review
licensed operators and associates to ensure casinos remain free of criminal influence.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has defended Labor’s opposition to a parliamentary inquiry into allegations federal ministers interfered in visa applications for Chinese high rollers.
SBS News reported last month that Crown Casino is facing claims it had a “hotline” to Australian consulates to fast-track visa applications, which the company denies.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie last week said that he had no doubt there were corrupt federal MPs in parliament who had allowed political donations to influence their decisions.
But Mr Albanese said he didn’t agree with Mr Wilkie’s claims.
“I have not seen any evidence of direct corruption that I’ve seen, that has been proven in my time when I’ve been in parliament,” Mr Albanese told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.
Mr Albanese said the opposition supported the government referring the matter to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
The Labor leader said a crossbench attempt to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the Crown allegations wasn’t a “serious option” because independents and minor parties would have been over-represented.
“You don’t conduct serious investigations with a parliamentary committee,” he said.
“What you need is a body that has the same powers of a royal commission, which this body has.”
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