News State NSW News ‘Risky’ high roller played $2 billion at Star

‘Risky’ high roller played $2 billion at Star

Star casino
Star Entertainment chairman John O'Neill is set to face an inquiry into the gambling giant. Photo: AAP
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A high roller about whom The Star harboured potential money laundering concerns linked to a controversial Chinese debit card scheme deployed by the casino turned over more than $2 billion at the gambling venue, an inquiry has been told.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority is investigating Star Entertainment Group’s fitness to retain its Sydney casino licence.

The inquiry has so far prompted the resignation of Star CEO Matt Bekier and sparked calls for a similar inquiry into Star’s two Queensland casinos.

On Friday, evidence continued from Star’s general manager of financial crime and investigations, Kevin Houlihan, who agreed with counsel assisting Naomi Sharp’s suggestion that high roller Phillip Dong Fang Lee turned over $2.27 billion at the casino between 2007 and 2021.

Shown the “very lengthy document” of Mr Lee’s playing history at the casino, Mr Houlihan — a former police officer in charge of preventing financial crime inside the gambling giant’s Sydney operations — said: “I see the number, yes”.

Mr Lee lost a net $57 million at the casino over the same period, and withdrew almost $100 million via a China Union Pay debit card, the inquiry was told.

Mr Lee was given a “medium risk” rating, but casino records did not show when his risk ratings were assessed or reviewed.

“Does that mean that The Star’s systems are not able to provide a record of when Mr Lee’s risks were rated, and when those ratings were reviewed?” Ms Sharp asked.

“No,” Mr Houlihan replied.

The casino allowed VIPs to use CUP cards to purchase gambling chips at the venue, despite knowing that was in breach of rules from China Union Pay, and then disguised the transactions as hotel accommodation, the inquiry has been told.

There has been evidence that casino management held personal concerns about the use of a CUP card by Mr Lee — a Chinese-born Australian property developer — being linked to potential money laundering.

Shown minutes from an internal casino meeting in 2015, Mr Houlihan conceded the phrase “KH to investigate” was a reference to him, but claimed the wrong words had been used in the minutes.

“Are you sure no investigations were conducted by your team in relation to Mr Lee,” Ms Sharp then asked.

“Yes,” the witness replied.

Around $900 million was transacted on CUP cards until terminals inside Star Entertainment casinos were disabled in 2020.

The inquiry continues.