SYDNEY, Australia — The Chinese authorities have charged employees of an Australian casino company with violating gambling promotion regulations, the company said on Tuesday, shedding potential light on a legal clash that has cast a pall over the gambling industry’s efforts to win Chinese customers.
Crown Resorts Limited, a casino company partly owned by the Australian billionaire James Packer, said in a filing with Australia’s stock exchange on Tuesday that the employees had been charged and would be tried by a court in Baoshan, a district in Shanghai. Employees still being detained by the police and those released on bail had been charged, Crown said. The company declined to comment further.
The Chinese authorities detained 18 employees, including three Australian citizens, in October in a crackdown that sent shivers through the casino industry. Gambling is illegal on the Chinese mainland, but Chinese customers have helped drive robust casino growth in Macau, a Chinese city that operates under its own laws, as well as in Australia, Singapore and a number of other destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. Casino companies often lure Chinese gamblers to their flashiest properties through indirect methods, promoting them as glamorous destinations replete with shopping opportunities. The inquiry is focused on whether the defendants’ efforts crossed a line into pushing gambling more explicitly.
The detained Australians were members of Crown’s sales and marketing team. The vice president of V.I.P. international operations, Jason O’Connor, who oversaw the company’s efforts to attract wealthy players, was among those detained. Also detained were two dual Australian-Chinese nationals, Jerry Xuan and Jenny Pan, according to the news media. Until Tuesday’s disclosure by Crown, their status had been unclear.
If convicted, the Crown workers could face several years in prison.
One of those workers is Jiang Ling. Her husband, Jeff Sikkema, said in an interview on Tuesday that she had been released on bail, but he said he had not heard about the charges until Crown made its disclosure. He said his wife had been released on a bond of about $7,400 after being detained for almost two months.
“The whole thing has been ugly, just a bad situation,” said Mr. Sikkema, who works at a logistics company in Shanghai. “For my wife — who does admin stuff, makes hotel reservations, processes visas — how is that possibly involved with gambling?”
Still, Mr. Sikkema said, they were hopeful that she would not spend time in prison.
“My understanding is it’s unlikely she’ll go back to jail,” he said. “The worst possible thing for her would be to have a suspended sentence, which will give her a criminal record.”
The Chinese authorities have broad powers to detain those suspected of crimes and to hold them after their arrests. In China, criminal charges almost always result in convictions, according to official data.
“The Australian government continues to provide consular assistance to three Australian Crown employees detained in Shanghai since 14 October,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.
Crown Resorts, one of Australia’s largest gambling companies, operates casinos in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Perth as well as in London, Macau and Manila.
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