Crown closes China chapter as jailed Aussie employee freed

SYDNEY • The last of Crown Resorts Ltd employees serving jail time in China for illegally promoting gambling was released, according to a statement from the company, closing the chapter on a saga that saw it retreat from international operations and halved its high-roller casino revenue.

Australian Jason O’Connor, Crown’s head of international high-roller operations, is the last of three Australian Crown employees to be freed after serving their sentences, the company said in a statement on Saturday.

“We’re very pleased that our employees are being reunited with their families,” John Alexander, executive chairman of Crown, said in a statement.

“Crown is deeply appreciative of the support provided by our legal counsel over the last few months and thanks the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian government for their professionalism and assistance,” he added.

In addition to O’Connor, three Chinese nationals and a Malaysian national were sentenced to 10 months in prison, which took into account time they had already spent in detention since October.

Aug 14 would be the 10-month mark since their detainment. Eleven others had been sentenced to nine months and were released last month. They could have faced a maximum of three years under Chinese law.

The arrests last October roiled the Melbourne-based company controlled by billionaire James Packer, and highlighted the fine line foreign casinos walk in courting customers from mainland China, where it’s illegal to gamble or promote gaming.

The Chinese government wants to curtail hundreds of billions of dollars worth of outflow, some of which exit the mainland via betting operations.

“This is the end of a long and arduous journey for Crown,” said Sudhir Kale, the Gold Coast, Australia-based founder of GamePlan Consultants.

“The company has well and truly paid its dues by way of fines, huge legal costs, drop in market capitalisation and the emotional trauma experienced by its employees while in prison.”

The impending release of Crown staff was first reported last Friday by the Australian Financial Review, which did not cite a source. — Bloomberg