China Frees Head of Crown's Global High-Roller Program

By Mike Cherney Features Dow Jones Newswires

A senior Crown Resorts Ltd. executive--the last of three Australians held in China after being convicted of gambling-related crimes--has been released from prison, the Australian government said Saturday.

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When Jason O'Connor, who led the international VIP program for the Australian casino operator, walked free, it capped a case that captivated the global casino industry, amid concerns business from lucrative Chinese VIPs would dry up.

One of 19 current and former Crown employees detained starting in October last year, Mr. O'Connor's release was expected. He was sentenced to a 10-month prison term--including time served--by a Chinese court in June. Some of the other employees, including two other Australians, were handed nine-month sentences and released last month.

"We are very pleased that our employees are being reunited with their families," Crown Executive Chairman John Alexander said in a statement Saturday. "Crown is deeply appreciative of the support provided by our legal counsel over the last few months and thanks the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian government for their professionalism and assistance."

A statement from Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Mr. O'Connor was returning to Australia.

Most of the detained Crown employees held sales and marketing positions targeting different regions of China. Casino gambling is illegal in mainland China and foreign casinos aren't allowed to directly advertise their gambling operations, though they can promote themselves more broadly by touting beaches and shopping.

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Since the arrests, Crown has pulled back from its global ambitions. The company, controlled by billionaire James Packer, sold off its stake in a Macau casino operator and withdrew from a Las Vegas casino project.

Crown said this month that year-over-year revenue from the VIP programs at its Australian resorts was down 49% in the fiscal year ended June.

Write to Mike Cherney at mike.cherney@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 12, 2017 06:54 ET (10:54 GMT)