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Inquiry told Star ‘breached’ rules on high-roller play

Sydney’s Star casino permitted a billionaire high roller to use a controversial Chinese debit card scheme despite it breaching the gaming venue’s standard operating procedure, an inquiry has been told.

Mar 29, 2022, updated Mar 29, 2022
The contentious China Union Pay debit card is believed to have brought more than $55 million to Star casinos in Queensland.

The contentious China Union Pay debit card is believed to have brought more than $55 million to Star casinos in Queensland.

The NSW gaming regulator is currently investigating whether The Star Sydney has been subject to criminal infiltration, and if the venue’s casino licence should be stripped in the wake of highly critical media reports.

Those reports accused the casino’s owner, which also operates the Gold Coast Star and Brisbane Treasury casinos, of enabling suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference.

The inquiry has so far heard damning evidence about practices at the casino, prompting the resignation this week of Star Entertainment Group CEO Matt Bekier.

On Tuesday, the inquiry was told that high roller Phillip Dong Fang Lee was allowed to use a China Union Pay debit card at the casino from 2014 in breach of internal casino rules permitting the card only to be used by “international rebate players”.

Mr Lee at the time was classified as a “local player” before the casino, later in 2015, altered its standard operating procedure – removing the CUP card restriction to accommodate the high roller, the inquiry was told.

“Does it follow … that until 17 December 2015 Mr Philip Dong Fang Lee’s use of the China Union Pay card was in breach of The Star’s own standard operating procedure?” Adam Bell SC asked casino regulatory manager David Aloi.

“Yes, it certainly wasn’t updated at that time,” Aloi said.

Also on Tuesday, Bell took aim at casino records that described Lee as a “non international rebate player” until April 8 2015, when $11.8 million was recorded as deposited by the Chinese-born Australian property developer.

“For the first time it would appear, according to this record, when that substantial deposit was made, he was treated as an international rebate player, can you explain that?” Bell asked the witness.

Aloi said “a lot of hands” went into creating the spreadsheet, but conceded he was responsible for the records, and that it was a “pretty important error”.

“It come through me,” he said.

Asked by Bell whether these were the same records that were used in the calculation of gaming duty payments to the NSW government, Aloi said “no”.

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“This is a general cage … spreadsheet.”

Earlier, Aloi said he told the gaming regulator that Lee was using the CUP card but could not recall if he had records “of that communication”.

“I’m not sure if I do or not,” he said.

Lee withdrew around $30 million at the casino over several months in 2015 via CUP swipes, and casino management had concerns of potential money laundering, the inquiry has previously been told.

There were also concerns raised at the casino about the gambler taking home gaming chips and plaques, using proxy players to do CUP swipes, and “abusing” the casino cheques system.

China Union Pay – a Chinese financial services company – banned gambling transactions on its CUP debit cards, but Star was able to disguise wagering as hotel accommodation charges, the inquiry has been told.

Star Entertainment says it has an unwavering focus on preventing criminal activity at its casinos.

The inquiry continues.

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