SYDNEY Oct 18 Billionaire James Packer, the
majority owner of Australian Crown Resorts Ltd, said on
Tuesday he was very concerned for 18 company employees detained
in China for suspected "gambling crimes."
Three Australians are in the group detained late last week,
including Crown's head of international VIP gambling Jason
O'Connor, in what the industry fears could be a crackdown by
Beijing on the promotion of offshore gaming by international
"I am deeply concerned for the welfare of those Crown
employees detained in China," Packer, who owns 53 percent of the
Australian-listed company, said in a statement.
"I am respectful that these detentions have occurred in
another country and are therefore subject to their sovereign
rules and investigative processes."
China's Foreign Ministry told Reuters in a statement on
Monday that the group were being held for suspected "gambling
crimes," and that it was still investigating.
Casinos cannot advertise in China and promoting gambling in
other ways, such as advertising resort facilities or offering
credit to high-spending clients, can also be problematic.
Thirteen South Korean casino managers were arrested in China
last year for offering Chinese gamblers free tours, free hotels
and sexual services.
Crown shares suffered their largest ever one-day decline on
Monday, falling by 14 percent, while smaller Australian rival
Star Entertainment Group Ltd dropped as much as 6
percent, amid concerns about the impact the detentions would
have on the companies' ability to attract wealthy Chinese
gamblers to major new developments in Australia.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose government has been
criticised by Beijing for blocking proposed takeovers of
Australian utilities and agriculture holdings, said on Tuesday
he was concerned about the arrests, but spoke in general terms.
"When Australians get into trouble overseas, we always
provide consular support and that is precisely what is happening
there now," Turnbull said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Australia consular officials in Shanghai were making
arrangements to visit the detained Australians, the Australian
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement late
on Monday, without specifying when the meetings would take
Packer said Crown was awaiting further details from the
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Sonali Paul, writing by Jane
Wardell; editing by G Crosse)