At least 18 employees of casino operator Crown Resorts have been detained by Chinese authorities, local media reports.
“Crown believes that a number of our employees in China are being questioned by local authorities and at this time we can provide no further details,” said a Crown spokesperson to The Australian Financial Review on Friday.
In a statement on Sunday, the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed there were individuals detained on suspicion of committing “gambling crimes”, adding that the case remained under investigation.
At least one of the detainees is believed to be senior executive Jason O’Connor from Crown Resorts.
“Crown believes that Jason O’Connor, the head of Crown’s VIP International team, is one of 18 Crown employees being questioned by Chinese authorities,” a Crown spokesperson said on Sunday.
“To date, Crown has not been able to speak with our employees and is working closely with DFAT [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] to urgently make contact and ascertain their welfare”, said the company.
China is known for its hardline stance against corruption and luxury spending.
While Chinese law prohibits advertising gambling services on the mainland, it does allow room for casino operators to promote their resorts’ non-gaming tourism offerings.
“This effort looks to be a replay of China’s crackdown on Korean casino marketing efforts in the summer of 2015. In the earlier crackdown, as part of operation “Chain Break”, the actions were largely focused on Korean casinos and agents working on behalf of those casinos and a few players,” said Bernstein in a note on Monday.
“The current action against Crown Resorts should not be taken as a negative indication against Macau casino operations,” the brokerage added.