By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) - The CEO of Australian casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd <CWN.AX> said on Wednesday the company's holiday package clients posed a higher risk of money laundering breaches than other gamblers, and acknowledged it could do more to prevent illegal payments.
The evidence came during an inquiry ordered by the New South Wales state government last year after local media reported Crown hired tour operators with ties to drug traffickers to bring wealthy Chinese gamblers into its Australian resorts - allegations the A$6.2 billion ($4.42 billion) company emphatically denied in full-page newspaper advertisements.
"It's certainly a higher risk than other customers, yes," Ken Barton told the inquiry, when asked about hiring tour or "junket" operators to bring in gamblers, as is common in the global gaming industry.
"The entry point of risk with junkets starts off as high. We have to accept that they're high-risk when we start the relationship," added Barton, who was promoted from the role of chief financial officer in January.
Like casino operators around the world, Crown has experienced a sharp downturn in foreign tour-based, or "VIP", turnover, largely from China, because of border closures and enforced shutdowns to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
But the company has for years targeted VIP gamblers as a growth prospect as it gets closer to opening a A$2.2 billion casino resort in Sydney slated for December.
Barton told the inquiry the company had previously focused on compliance and reporting of risks of breaching anti-money laundering laws, but "the ability to go beyond that and be proactive at eliminating risk ... is something that is incumbent on us to do and we have the capability of doing over time".
The inquiry continues.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Christopher Cushing)