In May 2019, Australian billionaire James Packer sold almost half of his stake in Crown Resorts – the biggest casino operator in Australia. Reports have now surfaced that Melco Resorts chairman and Hong Kong casino tycoon Lawrence Ho purchased nearly 10 percent of Crown Resorts from Packer during the same period when he worked as a director of a firm called Lanceford Company Limited.
James Packer and Crown Resorts will be investigated by the NSW gaming regulator as Lanceford Company Limited was one of the companies that were banned from doing any business with Crown Resorts. Lawrence Ho was the director of Lanceford Company Limited until June 28, 2019.
Crown Resorts Share Deal Will Be Investigated
Under an agreement with the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA), Crown Resorts is prohibited from getting involved in any new business activities with 55 companies and five individuals. Lanceford was on the list due to their connection with billionaire Stanley Ho who is the father of Lawrence Ho. Stanley Ho is accused of being associated with organized crime. The order came as part of a previously confidential condition of Crown’s new casino project in Barangaroo, Sydney.
Lawrence Ho is the chief executive of Melco Resorts and owns more than half of the shares. On May 30, it was announced that Melco agreed to buy almost 20 percent of Packer’s shares in Crown for around $1.75 billion. While the sale is yet to be completed, the first half of the shares were already transferred on June 6, with the remainder set to change hands by the end of next month according to Stock Exchange filings.
No Business With The Ho Family
The ILGA list of banned companies which was kept confidential for all this time is now public. The list of banned companies and individuals does not include Melco Resorts or Lawrence Ho as Melco has been in a business relationship with Crown for 10 years. However, the banned list does mention three of Lawrence’s sisters who currently serve as directors in Stanley Ho’s multi-billion dollar empire.
Two of Stanley’s wives, including Angela Leong, are also implicated in the list. Leong is currently part of the assembly governing Macau – the biggest gambling hub in the world.
Stanley and his daughter Pansy were also named on a watch list by New Jersey regulators in 2010 while they were considering the investment of MGM Mirage in the Borgata casino in Atlantic City. The investigation carried out by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement found that Stanley allowed the operation of criminal gangs inside his casinos, and that his daughter Pansy was entirely dependent on him and his money.
As a result, the regulators concluded that Pansy was not a suitable business partner of MGM Mirage in Macau. MGM Mirage was given the option to cut its connection with the businesswoman or sell its 50 percent share in the NJ casino. MGM went for the second option.
ILGA and Crown Arrangement
Both the ILGA and Crown Resorts entered into an agreement in 2014, preventing the casino from building any ties with Stanley Ho and his associates over a potential risk of infiltration by organized criminal gangs into the proposed Sydney property. The details of the agreement were contained in a specific section entitled “Prevention of associations with Stanley Ho”.
The names of the banned entities were released on August 8 by the NSW Legislative Council. The ILGA then announced an inquiry into the purchase of Packer’s Crown shares which will be chaired by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin.
Field, who asked for the banned list to be tabled in parliament, welcomed the announcement of an inquiry into the sale of Packer’s sales to Melco. Field said Crown’s operations need more scrutiny, considering its links junket operators associated with organized crime and money laundering. The three banned sisters, Maisy Ho, Daisy Ho and Pansy also serve as directors of Lanceford.
Crown Resorts Continues To Get Smeared
Crown Resorts has taken a beating in the media during the last few years with a wide range of allegations made against the company and its former chairman James Packer. Some of the recent allegations include money laundering, racial profiling and pokie machine tampering. In 2017, 16 employees were arrested in Mainland China on charges of promoting gambling activities in China which is illegal.
Australian authorities have recently criticized Crown Resorts for not doing more to stop money laundering and criminals from entering their casino resorts. Crown Melbourne allowed a Chinese VIP gambler to spend more than $800 million at their casino without sufficient checks into the source of funds. The Victorian gaming regulator has launched an investigation and Crown Melbourne has pledged full cooperation into the inquiry.