Authorities in China have arrested 18 Crown Resort employees and are questioning them in regards to their involvement in illegal gambling related activities. Gambling is banned in Mainland China with the exception of Macau. The Chinese government under the leadership of President Xi Jinping has taken a tough stance on the gambling industry and launched an anti-corruption crackdown in 2014 targeting the Macau casino industry and illegal gambling in Mainland China.

The 18 employees who were arrested are from different parts of the Mainland including Beijing and Shanghai. Some of those arrested are Australian citizens and one of them is the head of Crown Resorts VIP International team, Jason O’Connor. Chinese authorities are yet to release any official statement clarifying the exact charges that the 18 employees were facing.

A number of Australian casinos including James Packer’s Crown Resorts have targeted the Asian market with a specific focus on Mainland China. The collapse of Macau’s VIP gambling market has caused international gambling operators to focus on attracting these Mainland Chinese gamblers to their casinos. Chinese law states that it is illegal for any organization or individual to take more than 10 Chinese nationals to an overseas casino. The law also does not allow any advertising of gambling related services. However, China does permit operators to promote their hotels and resorts where the casinos are located.

Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth have succeeded in recent times in attracting a large number of Chinese gamblers. There is no indication as of now if the 18 arrested employees were engaged in organizing a gambling tour. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) confirmed that it was in touch with Chinese authorities regarding the arrests. The consular treaty between China and Australia, gives the Chinese authorities up to 72 hours to inform the Australian government of the arrests of any of their citizens.

In a statement, the DFAT said “The Australian Government is aware of reports of the possible detention of a number of Crown International Group employees across China, including three Australians. Consular officials are seeking to confirm these reports with the relevant Chinese authorities. If Australians have been detained, consular officials will seek to offer appropriate consular assistance in accordance with the Consular Services Charter”.

This is not the first time that Chinese authorities have targeted foreign nationals who were in the country to recruit Chinese nationals to visit their casinos. Back in 2015, the Ministry of Public Security confirmed that 34 Chinese agents and 13 South Korean managers were arrested for recruiting Chinese nationals to visit Jeju Island in South Korea and gamble at the casinos.