18 June, 2024
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Money laundering central to Queensland Star probe

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Star Entertainment’s money laundering controls will be tested as a fresh probe examines suggestions that people banned from other casinos were encouraged to travel to Queensland.

Public hearings into Star’s suitability to hold a casino licence began in Brisbane on Tuesday, with counsel assisting Jonathan Horton, QC, confirming the issue of money laundering will play a central role.

Star handles the matter at a group level, but there are specific concerns relating to Queensland, the hearing was told.

Specifically, it will look at people excluded by police in other states because of suspicions of involvement in criminal activity.

“There’s the issue of some persons being actively encouraged to come to Queensland, and being given benefits to do so even though, and this might be an understatement, red flags existed,” Mr Horton told the hearing.

Star eventually adopted a whole-of-group exclusion policy in 2019, whereby a person excluded in Sydney would be excluded in Queensland, but the policy did not appear to be retrospective.

As a consequence, people already excluded from the Sydney casino weren’t excluded in Queensland, Mr Horton said.

The inquiry is also expected to investigate the use of ChinaUnion Pay accounts for gambling, despite currency movement restrictions.

Central to the issue is an allegation that patrons could divert funds from their ChinaUnion Pay accounts to credit their hotel room accounts.

Accompanied by a VIP host, the patron would then allegedly take a receipt to the hotel cage and exchange it for cash or chips.

When the casino’s banker, National Australia Bank, queried the issue, the hearing was told none of Star’s explanations made it clear funds were for gambling.

The practice ended in March 2020, with evidence suggesting some $55 million was transacted in Star Queensland casinos using this process.

The figure is about 10 per cent of what took place in Star’s NSW operation, Mr Horton told the hearing.

The Queensland inquiry first heard from three witnesses with experience of gambling harm – either personally or as the partner of someone with addiction issues.

Speaking under a pseudonym, witness C told the hearing that when she was at her lowest, she felt the only way out was to die.

She had gambled on the pokies infrequently with friends until a bad argument with her partner prompted a visit to the pub as one of the only places she had to go.

“The machines did what they’re designed to do…calm me down and settle me down and take me to another place,” she said.

Eventually she lost more money than she could count as well as her “last shred of self esteem”.

Her experience outlined gambling issues generally and was not directly related to Star.

Star’s manager of responsible gambling Junior Toleafoa is due to give evidence later on Tuesday.

An interim report following investigations by the Queensland’s gaming regulator has been given to Star, with findings to be canvassed when the group’s staff front the inquiry this week.

Star Entertainment interim chief executive officer Geoff Hogg is expected to appear at the hearing on Friday.

The group’s $3.6 billion resort and casino development at Queen’s Wharf in Brisbane is expected to open in 2023.

The review before Judge Robert Gotterson will report to the attorney-general by September 30.

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– AAP

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