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ABC News
ABC News

Crown Casino in Melbourne fined $80 million for illegal China Union Pay scheme

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission said Crown knew its actions could be illegal and proceeded regardless. (ABC News: Daniel Fermer)

Melbourne's Crown Casino has been hit with a record $80 million fine for a scheme that allowed the illegal transfer of funds from China.

A Victorian royal commission into Crown uncovered that foreign punters were able to use a China Union Pay (CUP) bank card to access funds to gamble at the casino between 2012 and 2016.

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) estimated Crown derived revenue of more than $32 million from the scandal, which violated Chinese laws and Victoria's Casino Control Act.

VGCCC chairperson Fran Thorn said while Crown had cooperated with the disciplinary process, the fine would strip the casino of the revenue it generated from the illegal conduct.

"Crown's CUP process was a clandestine, deliberate process, which not only breached the Casino Control Act but was also devised to assist patrons to breach China's foreign currency exchange restrictions," she said. 

"In doing so, it showed no regard for upholding its regulatory obligations. Indeed, it went to some lengths to hide what it was doing."

Between 2012 and 2016, Chinese nationals were not able to transfer more than $50,000 out of the country per year.

The royal commission found that Crown devised a scheme where it would issue false receipts for hotel services.

The guest would then pay the bill using a China Union Pay bank card, be given a voucher, and exchange that voucher for gambling chips.

Crown Casino said in a statement that it "acknowledges its historic failings".

"Upon becoming aware of this historical conduct, Crown's board immediately commissioned an independent investigation and shared the findings with the Victorian royal commission, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (the predecessor to the VGCCC) and other regulators," it said.

"Crown's board and senior management are committed to the delivery of a comprehensive reform and remediation program to ensure Crown delivers a safe and responsible gaming environment and continues to cooperate with the VGCCC on all matters arising from the Victorian Royal Commission Report."

The maximum fine the regulator can impose is $100 million. Until last year, it was only $1 million. 

Tim Costello, chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said the fine was "absolutely appropriate" and was thanks to stronger legislative powers given to the regulator.

"I'm at least breathing a little bit easier now knowing we've got a regulator that has serious sanctions," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

The Victorian royal commission into Crown found the casino guilty of "disgraceful" conduct, and recommended it be stripped of its license if it could not prove it had reformed itself by 2023.

The VGCCC said it is also considering further disciplinary proceedings against Crown related to the other findings of the royal commission.

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