Star gambler's China bank card paid debt

A Chinese-born Australian property developer who gambled at The Star casino for more than 20 years bought chips and paid debts with the same Chinese bank cards that were being used to top up customer accounts that could conceal gambling expenses, an inquiry has heard.

A National Australia Bank executive handling transactions for the China Union Pay cards at The Star also never received a written confirmation the money wasn’t used to gamble after CUP raised concerns about large transactions.

The inquiry heard last week The Star allowed high-rollers to bill $900 million as hotel expenses to dodge China’s tight anti-gambling and capital flight laws.

CUP cards were used to transfer money to client’s hotel accounts, with statements written up as costs of their stay.

Phillip Dong Fang Lee told the hearing through an interpreter on Monday he’d been a diamond member of the casino for more than 15 years and gambled there for more than 20, primarily on his own in private rooms.

He lives in Sydney and told the hearing when he gambled he did not stay in the hotel.

Relationship managers at the casino would spend time with him as well as arranging food and rooms to play in.

“They provided very good service,” Mr Lee said.

That service also included bringing him more chips so he could continue gambling.

Mr Lee told the hearing he would give one of his CUP cards to his relationship manager, who would fetch him the chips while he stayed at the table.

As well as bank accounts in Australia and Singapore, Mr Lee also had more than five bank accounts in mainland China, with “close to 20” associated CUP cards.

About a decade ago, after a loss at the casino, a relationship manager told a “very anxious” Mr Lee he could use one of those cards to pay back his debt.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority is investigating whether The Star Sydney is fit to keep its casino licence following media reports last year accusing the casino’s owner of enabling suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference.

NAB executive Tanya Arthur managed the bank’s account with The Star and faced questions over almost $1 billion in disguised expenses on Friday.

She returned on Monday and was asked to explain statements totalling $2.5 million in transactions dating back to July 2019.

She agreed that she had not looked at the documents in detail at the time, and did not realise three statements covering a four-day period were all for the same customer’s account.

Despite concerns by some within the bank, it never secured a written confirmation from The Star the money was not being used for gambling, even after CUP raised the alarm with NAB.

The confirmation Ms Arthur said she received from Star that no money had been used on gambling was over the phone.

Ms Arthur “strenuously disagreed” that she accepted what she was told and put it in writing herself to other bank officers to alleviate CUP’s concerns.

Former Star group treasurer Sarah Scopel told the hearing last week she was under the impression the bank knew the money was being used for gambling.

Ms Arthur said she was intentionally misled and was told by The Star they were not able to provide detailed breakdowns of spending to show how the money was spent.

Star Entertainment says it has an unwavering focus on preventing criminal activity at its casinos, which also include The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane.