CANBERRA, Australia – A lawmaker on Wednesday accused a major Australian casino company of rigging slot machines and concealing potential money laundering at its largest casino with the state regulator covering up criminal behavior.
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Andrew Wilkie, an independent who has long campaigned against slot machines, presented to Parliament videoed statements of three former employees of Crown Resorts Ltd. making allegations of misconduct at the casino in Melbourne. The men's faces and voices were disguised.
Crown issued a statement rejecting Wilkie's allegations and called on him to provide all relevant information to the authorities.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, the Victoria state regulator, said the allegation would be investigated as part of its current every-five-year review of Crown Melbourne's gambling license.
"We take any claims of this type extremely seriously and they will be thoroughly investigated," the commission said in a statement.
Because Willkie made the allegations under parliamentary privilege, he cannot be sued for defamation.
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The allegations led to Crown's share price falling more than 8 percent in early trading. The price rallied after Crown's denial to end the day 4 percent lower at 11.28 Australian dollars ($8.85).
Wilkie alleged that staff at Crown Melbourne engaged in "software manipulation to increase gambler losses" on slot machines, as well as other illegal machine tampering.
"I'm horrified to recount that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has allegedly done nothing to stop this shocking criminal misconduct," Wilkie told Parliament.
"According to the whistle-blowers, in some cases the commission is clearly complicit in covering it up," he added.
Wilkie's informants also alleged that the casino avoided scrutiny by the government's anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing intelligence agency, AUSTRAC, of transactions exceeding AU$10,000 by misusing gamblers' identity documents.
"If these allegations are true, then Crown would be facilitating money laundering for any number of nefarious reasons like tax fraud, drug running or even terrorism," Wilkie told Parliament.
AUSTRAC said in a statement that it takes seriously all allegations of noncompliance with anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing obligations and "will be examining these allegations further."
Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the gambling allegations were for Victoria state authorities to investigate.
The allegations are another blow to confidence in the Melbourne-based company. In June, a Chinese court sentenced 16 Australian and Chinese Crown employees to nine to 10 months in prison after they pleaded guilty to charges related to organizing gambling tours to Australia. They have all since been released. The convictions raised questions about Crown's future ability to attract Chinese high rollers to its Australian casinos in Melbourne and Perth.
Crown's profit dropped 21.5 percent in the last fiscal year that ended June 30 to AU$308.9 million, which the company said "reflects difficult trading conditions" due to a reduction in high-roller revenue.
Crown Melbourne operates 2,628 gaming machines and 540 gaming tables.
Wilkie told reporters that the three former employees had spoken to him in recent months on condition that he did not reveal their identities. None had made their allegations to law enforcement authorities, he said.