China confirms charges against 3 Australian casino employees

BEIJING, China – China confirmed Wednesday it will prosecute three Australian casino employees who were detained last month on suspicion of violating strict Chinese gambling regulations.

The three employees of Crown Resorts Ltd. were formally arrested Friday “on suspicion of gambling,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a briefing. Geng did not offer details on the allegations they face. Australia said Tuesday that it had received formal arrest notices from China.

Casino gambling is illegal in mainland China and agents are banned from organizing groups of more than 10 Chinese citizens to gamble abroad. According to Chinese law, anyone who “runs a gambling house or makes gambling his profession” can face up to three years in prison.

The industry has been known to skirt the ban by touting destination packages rather than gambling, particularly as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ongoing corruption crackdown has deterred some gamblers from the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.

The three Australians include the head of Crown’s VIP International team, Jason O’Connor, who was visiting China from the company headquarters in Melbourne, Australia, when he and others were detained in October. Fifteen Chinese employees of Crown were also detained, and the status of their cases is not known.

Crown did not return messages seeking comment on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia’s consular staff visited all three on Tuesday. They are being held in Shanghai.

“They are in good health, they are all represented by lawyers and we were able to provide advice and support and messages from their families,” Bishop told Sky News television.

“It is a very difficult circumstance, but we will continue to provide whatever advice and support that we are able,” she added.