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Friday, October 22, 2010

Australian Casino And Gambling News: Huge Week, by Greg Tingle - 22nd October 2010

It's been one of the biggest and most colourful weeks in the history of the Australian casino, gambling and media industry. We've got Crown Limited VS Tabcorp in the Aussie casino war, Tabcorp restructure, Crown's Packer VS Network Nine's Gyngell, politics and gambling, tons of new games hitting PartyGaming and Virgin, the government chasing revenue, money laundering via pub pokie palaces and so much more. Media Man and Gambling911 continue to bring you the hottest news on the planet...

Fake Casino Chips Found At Star City Casino; 'Sin City' Lives Up To Name...

Action by a casino cashier uncovered a rather fishy fake chip scam that saw the arrest of a female (not fem bot) at Star City in Australia's 'Sin City' Sydney. Cops and security nabbed and detained the woman in the early hours of Monday morning after a staffer member alerted them to a batch of high-quality fake $100 gaming chips that had just been handed in at the cashier. The counterfeit chips were allegedly smuggled into the casino on Sunday night. A 27-year-old woman was arrested at roughly 1.15am. It was the first time in a decade that counterfeit chips have been found at the casino. A Star City spokesman said the cashier noticed an "irregular chip" and immediately contacted security. "It is very rare that we see a good quality chip like this but our cashiers are very well trained and fortunately we picked up on it early in the piece," he said. We had a separate set of $100 chips ready to go and they were distributed as quickly as possible. It will not affect those people who took chips home and want to come back into the casino to use them." The arrest was made as part of a wider surveillance operation. The Blakehurst woman was charged with dishonestly obtaining property by deception and two counts of use and possess counterfeit chips in a casino. Police went onto executed a search warrant at a house in Coogarah St, Blakehurst and seized more counterfeit chips, credit cards, computers and $21,840 in cash. A 28-year-old man was arrested and charged with two counts of dishonestly obtain property by deception and two counts of possessing counterfeit chips in a casino. Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis said police were keeping a close watch for more fake chips. "Due to the co-operation and fast action by the casino, police have been able to identify and respond to these offences," Supt Katsogiannis said. "Anyone found using such chips will be arrested and dealt with by police."
In April last year, bosses at Melbourne's Crown Casino were forced to check the authenticity of more than $13.7 million worth of $1000 chips after near-perfect counterfeits were detected. More than $36,000 worth of chips were found to be fakes.
The woman charged over the Star City fakes will appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on November 8. The man has been bailed and will appear at Bankstown Local Court on November 16. No fish or vinegar was found with the chips, and before you ask, no, Annie "The Hunt" Duke or "Annette15" were not connected, despite many insiders calling them "sharks", with eyes squarely on Australian fresh meat!

Expert Advisory Panel On Australian Gambling Announced...

We've been chasing this story for a while, but only now can we give you the meaty chunks you've been waiting for on this front...

22 (not 21!) people have been selected to advise the Australian Government on its gambling reforms through a new expert panel. The Ministerial Expert Advisory Group on Gambling, chaired by Professor Peter Shergold AC, will provide specialist and technical implementation advice and assist the Government to deliver gambling reforms.

The Government has invited representatives to join the Ministerial Expert Advisory Group from:
problem gambling counselling and support services;
clubs, hotels, casinos and gaming machine manufacturers;
the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union; and
research and academic institutions that specialise in understanding problem gambling behaviour and harm minimisation measures.

The group will consider key issues such as the implementation of a best practice, full pre‑commitment scheme on poker machines, the roll out of poker machine dynamic warning and cost of play displays and establishing ATM withdrawal limits in venues with poker machines (excluding casinos).

The Government says the group will be guided by the latest evidence on gambling and will seek advice from other stakeholders where necessary and will meet for the first time in early November.

They will provide advice to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Assistant Treasurer regularly, through the Secretariat and the Chair.

On Saturday the Council of Australian Government's (COAG) Select Council on Gambling Reform, which includes Treasurers, Ministers responsible for gambling regulation, and Ministers responsible for community services, will meet for the first time to develop national solutions to minimise harm from problem gambling.

The Australian Government has committed to work with the states and territories, industry and the community sector to progress a national response to the recommendations of the Productivity Commission Report on Gambling.

The Productivity Commission estimates that there are between 80,000 and 160,000 problem gamblers in Australia. In addition there are between 230,000 and 350,000 people at moderate risk.
Ministerial Expert Advisory Group Membership
Chair: Professor Peter Shergold AC, Macquarie Group Foundation Professor, Centre for Social Impact, University of NSW.
The Government has invited the following people to join the Ministerial Advisory Group on Gambling:
Ms Cheryl Vardon, Australasian Gaming Council
Mr Anthony Ball, Clubs Australia
Mr John Whelan, Australian Hotels Association
Mr Chris Downy, Australasian Casino Association
Mr Ross Ferrar, Gaming Technologies Association
Mr Rohan Martin, ATM Industry Reference Group
Mr John Duffy, International Gaming Technology
Mr John Bresnan, Crown Limited
Mr David Curry, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group
Mr Simon Schrapel, ACOSS and UnitingCare Wesley, Adelaide
Dr Mark Zirnsak, Victorian InterChurch Gambling Taskforce
Major Brad Halse, Salvation Army Southern Territory
Ms Rosemary Hambledon, Relationships Australia South Australia
Mr Barry Sheehan, Centacare Toowoomba
Ms Kate Roberts, Gambling Impact Society
Ms Louise Tarrant, Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union
Dr Paul Delfabbro, Associate Professor in Psychology, University of Adelaide
Professor Nerilee Hing, Director, Centre for Gambling Education and Research, Southern Cross University
Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Chair in Psychology, University of Sydney
Mr Ashley Gordon, Centre for Gambling Education and Research, Southern Cross University
Dr Charles Livingstone, Deputy Head, Department of Health Social Science, Monash University

Money Laundering Crime Spree At Australian Pokie Palaces In The Suburbs...

Money laundering via club pokies is big and dirty business in Aussie hotels, but its been a bit of a secret, before Gambling911 and Media Man spread the word worldwide. It usually happens in the middle of the night, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. This is when many of Australia's top pokie palaces are doing the big numbers, in more ways than one. Professional money launderers in Australia are understood to have similar working hours and sleeping patterns to bats, rats, other rodents, and creatures of the night. They often hit several hotels in a night. Winter is understood to be the real festive season for this breed, as it's easier to carry huge wads of dirty cash in a jacket pocket, hidden into the landscape. They frequently use the car parks attached to the hotel, launderers trying to get a spot as close to the door as possible, as they carry large sums of cold hard cash. Being loyal patrons they are sometimes well known to security guards, who nod to them, get them inside, so the fun and games begin. The nod is known in the security trade as "brothel protocol", where familiar and loyal patrons are discreetly acknowledged without mentioning names, and you get the idea maties. Security guards who understand "the rules" make it easier for the pros. A car park is key because the launderers don't want to walk the street carrying thousands of bucks in the dead of night. After they enter the hotel, the pro launderers do what is known as a "recognisance" of the gambling room to check for any threats such as under-cover police officers or prospective muggers or other problems. You can sometimes spot the pros by the long jackets, with large pockets. This folks are daring and usually pretty tough. It's a bugger of a job, but those qualified and willing make a handsome living doing the midnight shifts. Crime gangs often go for Sydney's west and south-west when they need to convert large amounts of cash into funds in the form of a winnings cheque because they offer the top notch car parks and security needed. Pro launderers are almost exclusively male, and they take their profession seriously. Almost always as part of the art, during the initial visit they will play a small amount of cash through a one armed bandit and then reserve it by pressing a "reserve" button, before returning to their car to collect up to $10 grand in $100 notes. They often make several trips to their car to collect more cash, then return to the same pokie. Unlike other automated cash machines such as ticket dispensers, poker machines are not so fussy about how notes are fed into them. This means gamblers can do $10,000 in minutes by feeding 100 $100 notes before the reels start spinning, and the speed of machines means each bet may be seconds apart. The gambler then gets a cheque from the hotel, which is "clean" and appears to tax and other authorities to be a "win". Often they simply feed the money into the pokie without actually gambling it, and then collect a cheque for what they have put in the machine. Sometimes they play a few hundred bucks, or less, before collecting their clean money. The hotel of course gets high turnover through its machines, of which it can legally keep a percentage of the amount, through the profits on its machines, and the government coffers gets a percentage through gaming taxes. About $2 million passes through the pokies in a week at each of the state's top pokie palaces, according to an analysis of figures supplied from friends at the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing. This produces a net profit of about $160,000 a week, or $8.3 million a year for the hotelier. Good business, if you don't get caught. Many launderers don't need to play the machines, they just feed in the cash and press the "collect" button, allowing them to go to the bar or a booth and receive a fat cheque. The rumour mills says some hoteliers say some pubs are so well known to crime gangs that they refer to them as LLs, slang for "local laundries". Hotel industry sources estimate that nationally $2 billion is laundered through hotels, clubs and casino poker machines and gambling chips, and about 40% of this is via New South Wales, the nation's aptly named 'Sin City' Sydney. This is a party of the $14 billion fed through Australia's poker machines in pokie palaces every year. Poker machines are understood to be one of the few places remaining for crims to clean cash due to a crackdown on money laundering at racecourses, the TAB and a few other lurks.
Hoteliers and their staff are supposed to report suspicious transactions as one might guess, but the reporting of customers who feed large amount of cash through machines in return for cheques is not routine to say the least. The nation's anti-laundering agency is trying to crack down on this through the enhanced powers it got in 2006, but not much movement on that front, and there are more than 6000 hotels around the country, making it a tough nut to crack. Under the strict anti-laundering legislation, hotels are supposed to have a "compliance manager" on staff to report suspicious and large payouts, but in reality those who hand out the fat winnings cheques are often young and inexperienced bar staff. Many in the industry say that hoteliers won't be compelled to report all suspicious transactions and stamp out laundering until a hotelier "is made an example of". The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre has been sending out formal questionnaires to hotels and clubs for the past few months, asking hotels to declare who its big "winners" are. There was another round of these quiz's sent to hotels around NSW on 29th September. Austrac is working with the Australian Crime Commission, but no hotels or clubs have been prosecuted for breaching laundering laws, even though there are harsh penalties including jail and fines of $11 million for each offence. George Thomas, a 74-year-old publican from Vaucluse, is the only hotelier to be busted so far by the nation's anti-laundering agency. Austrac forced Thomas's seven companies to appoint an external auditor from the accounting firm Deloittes after they were found to have breached four sections of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act. The breaches were related to asking customers for identification, identifying and managing money-laundering risks and lodging reports to the regulator. Austrac said they were "asked a number of times" to comply with the laws which require the hotels to produce evidence it has procedures to address money laundering, but the hotels did not comply until the auditor was appointed. The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing knows down to the dollar how much cash is going through poker machines in every NSW hotel, because of sophisticated centralised monitoring software that sends data back to head office. It can even identify if launderers are feeding money into machines and pressing collect without playing them! But those in the know reckon it is a state-government body which is mostly interested in gaming taxes, not laundering. No hoteliers were willing to comment on the record about the extent of laundering through poker machines. "The hoteliers think, 'Jesus, if my hotel gets mentioned then the launderers won't come. How much will that impact on my business?" one leaker said. The chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association, Sally Fielke, declined to comment about the extent of laundering through hotels, saying she had no way of measuring it. One of those willing to comment was Paul Mulligan, a risk manager for Risk Consultants Australia, which advises hotels on how to comply with the new laws. Mulligan said hotels wanted to stamp out money laundering but they were finding it costly and time consuming to comply as the legislation was complex. Bankers who fund the hotel industry are also concerned about the extent of dirty money flowing through poker machines that in effect, they part-own. "It is a very delicate matter," said one person in the bank sector, who does not want to be associated with laundering. They are also concerned about the loss of business, and how that will hit the bottom line of hotels. Austrac is also cracking down on poker machines within licensed clubs, as well as bets placed through bookmakers, one may ask is if launderers can't go to hotels, clubs or to the racetrack, where might the money go? Online casinos... the www, underground gambling dens at Kings Cross?

Tabcorp To Ramp Up Queensland Banana Bender Land Based Casinos...

Tabcorp Holdings has tipped even greater investment in Queensland casinos, stating it wants to snatch some of rival Crown Ltd's high-rolling VIP players aka "whales". Tabcorp on Monday announced a demerger of its casinos operations from its wagering, gaming and keno businesses. The company also said it would spend $175 million on upgrading its Jupiters casino on the Gold Coast to create an international entertainment and resort destination. The upgrade will include refurbishment of the main gaming floor, a new private gaming room, dedicated gaming areas for VIP - whale customers, new restaurants and bars, a nightlife venue, a refurbishment of the pool area and a new spa. Construction is expected to start in the middle of calendar year 2011 and be completed in 2014. Tabcorp also said it was in talks with the Queensland government on further expansion of its Gold Coast, Brisbane and Townsville casinos, including the construction of one or two new hotels. Tabcorp already is engaged in a $960 million expansion of its Star City casino in Sydney, which includes a $100 million licence fee to the NSW government. Tabcorp chief executive Elmer Funke Kupper said Asian VIP gamblers visiting Australia would "naturally gravitate" to the Gold Coast and Sydney. But Crown Limited, which operates the Crown Casino in Melbourne and the Burswood Casino in Perth, had more than 80% of the VIP market. Clients are understood to be loyal to the James Packer owned company, as are Media Man and most friends. "If you look at the geography, at the size of Australia, that is not the right mix," Funke Kupper said. "Therefore, we are very confident that by investing in Sydney and the Gold Coast, we can grow the market by creating destinations that people might prefer over Melbourne. "Secondly, we'd like to correct the market share equation where I think we're underdoing it." Funke Kupper said that given the far greater size of Melbourne and Sydney and the large number of tourist arrivals, casinos in those two cities would always be much bigger than casinos in Queensland. He said Queensland was a "stretched out" market along several thousand kilometres of coastline and more suited to a number of very strong local casinos. Tabcorp was pleased with its positioning of casinos at the Gold Coast and in Brisbane and Townsville but needed to grow the market. "We're flagging that we continue to be working with, and discussing very constructively with, the Queensland government on the next round of possibilities," Funke Kupper told the press. "Now that's a much bigger investment, that is a much bigger decision. If it were to be a possibility, then the casinos business will undertake that investment whenever that is - it could be 12 to 18 months out, or further out.". Folks, the Aussie casino wars are still going strong, and we thank each one of your for your ongoing contributions via email and in the world famous forum.

The latest just in...

Packer Eyes Sky TV...

Packer's $250 million-plus raid on the Ten Network is likely part of an elaborate plan that could lead to the axing of Ten's sports channel, One HD, and its replacement with a free-to-air version of Rupert Murdoch's Sky News service! By closing the Ten sports channel, Packer would eliminate a big competitor for the sports channels on Foxtel...the pay TV network that he jointly owns with Murdoch's News Ltd and Telstra. Under Packer's crafty if not cunning plan, Sky News would still be screened by Foxtel but would use one of Channel Ten's new digital free-to-air stations as another distribution point, giving it a much bigger potential audience reach... piece of the pie. Until now Sky News has only been available on Foxtel and its regional equivalent Austar. So as the commercial networks began offering multiple free-to-air channels, the pay television business has been under massive pressure. The management of Foxtel is tipped to battle the Packer move. A second leg to Mr Packer's investment in Ten involves cutting costs by chopping the network's expensive plans to boost its news service between 6pm -7pm, part of which involved installing news and current affairs veterans George Negus and Chris Masters. Packer would rather see a cheap alternative of reruns of programs such as mainstay The Simpsons. Cutting network operating costs would be an essential element to making a return on his investment. But while the theory is sound enough, the execution will put Packer into battle with the management and board of Ten. In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange last night, Packer's private company, Consolidated Press Holdings, confirmed it now owned more than 186 million shares in Ten, or 17.8% of the stock. As the stake might not be sufficient for Packer to push through his plans, he may need to enlist the support of regional TV tycoon Bruce Gordon, who owns 12% of Ten, and Perpetual Investments, which has about 10%. At this stage, Packer has no plan for a full takeover bid. Mr Packer ended his family's association with free-to-air television two years ago when he sold the last of his stake in Nine Network's parent, PBL Media.

PartyGaming VS Virgin Games War Continues...

In a week that sees PartyCasino and Virgin Casino go at it hammer and tong, both online casinos unleash yet more games, with a focus on slots and attractive bonuses. PartyGaming still has a clear upper hand on a global scale, as they are available in many more counties than Virgin at this stage, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In addition, Party is offering up to $3000 in bonuses for new players, while Virgin is only tipping $100. We still love Richard Branson's Virgin, so don't be too hard on them. We know they are trying to get into other counties, but until then, Party wins hands down. Both casinos have previously won the prestigious Media Man 'Online Casino Of The Month' Award. New slots include Unicorn Legend, Crocodopolis, Shark Super Bet, Thunderstruck II, Tally Ho, HellBoy, Pharaoh's Treasure, Snow Business, Alice’s Wonderland and Kung Food. Insiders say more new slots have hit the internet this month, than any other month in history! Well, what are you waiting for. Spin to win and good luck.

Media Man Profiles

Australia

Australian Casinos

Crown Casino

Network Ten

James Packer

David Gyngell

Wrap Up...

Readers... er, punters, what's your view on the latest in the Australian casino and gambling landscape? Keep checking daily for updates. If you have a bet, please bet with your head, not over it, and for God's sake, have fun.

Shares

Crown Limited Share price: $8.490

Tabcorp price: $7.450

Network Ten Holdings Limited price: $1.580

CVC price: 0.910

*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man http://www.mediamanint.com is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. They cover a dozen industry sectors including gaming and offer political commentary and analysis.

*The writer owns shares in Crown Limited

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