The ABC says a major investigation has revealed that the Chow Tai Fook company, which has a 25 per cent stake in the new casino, allegedly has a long association with organised crime figures and others banned by gambling regulators overseas.
The revelations come on the eve of an inquiry into the Star Entrainment Group, the major backer of the $3.8 billion Queens Wharf development, and its alleged involvement in money laundering at its existing casino operations.
The Casino operator’s dire 2022 has been topped off with a loss of $199 million. Covid shutdowns, allegations of money laundering, a flood, a cost blow-out and further delays in the development of its Queen’s Wharf project impacted the company which has three casinos in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
However, Star said its fourth quarter showed a recovery with domestic revenue at the Gold Coast up 26 per cent and Brisbane 18 per cent. It said that had flowed through to the new financial year.
The ABC investigation alleges companies associated with Chow Tai Fook still have links with alleged criminal figures, including Macau-based gangster Wan Kuok Koi, known as “Broken Tooth”.
The government signed off on Chow Tai Fook’s involvement with the Queens Wharf project in 2015 after being satisfied it was a fit and proper entity to be involved in the state’s newest casino venture.
However, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman has now told the ABC that allegations of the company’s criminal involvement were “incredibly concerning” and would be investigated.
“Any of this new information that comes to light will absolutely be investigated,” she told the ABC.
The review into Star’s suitability to hold a casino license, headed by former judge Robert Gotterson, is due to begin public hearings on Tuesday.
Fentiman ordered the probe into the ASX-listed casino operator after the Bell inquiry heard allegations of money laundering and fraudulent activity in NSW.
Lawyers for Star told a preliminary hearing last month the company intended to fully co-operate with the inquiry.
As well as being the major partner in Queens Wharf, Star owns and operates the Treasury Brisbane and The Star Gold Coast casinos.
Gotterson is expected to deliver a report on the inquiry to the government by September 30.
For the year, Star’s EBITDA in Brisbane was down 43 per cent to $65 million, the Gold Coast fell 20 per cent to $90 million and Sydney was down 60 per cent to $82 million.
A big factor in its bottom line loss was a goodwill impairment on the Sydney casino of $162 million. On a normalised basis it reported a loss of $32 million. It also scrapped its dividend.
Interim chair Ben Heap said the Covid related disruptions along with damaging regulatory hearings in Sydney over money laundering allegations had presented “significant challenges”.
“The underlying strength of the business has enabled a strong rebound post the Covid related property shutdowns and operating restrictions,” Heap said.
The Austrac investigation into the company was ongoing and it was now also facing amendments to the Queensland Casino Control Act which would include fines of up to $50 million for serious breaches.
It has initiated a renewable program which it said would make the company safer and stronger by helping fix past mistakes. That included the end of junkets and stopping the usyue of overseas payment channels including the China Pay credit card.
At its Queen’s Wharf development in Brisbane where costs had blown out by $260 million, the company said three towers were now beyond level 20 and the podium structure was complete.