Star manager denies high roller blindness

·3-min read

A Star Entertainment senior manager has denied being "wilfully blind" to the possibility of a high roller using some of $100 million of investor funds to pay down gambling debts incurred at its Sydney casino.

A royal commission-style inquiry is examining the fitness of The Star Sydney - owned by ASX-listed Star - to hold a casino licence after media claims it enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference.

Mark Walker, Star Entertainment's senior vice president of premium services operations, was grilled on Tuesday over his dealings with VIP gambler, and iProsperity director, Michael Gu, who gamed at The Star in 2018 and 2019.

Mr Gu reportedly fled Australia after iProsperity collapsed in July 2020, owing $325 million to creditors.

Counsel assisting Penelope Abdiel asked Mr Walker about a 2019 meeting he attended at Mr Gu's office to discuss late casino payments during which the high roller showed him a $100 million bank balance on his phone.

The inquiry was told that the balance represented investors' money and that Mr Walker believed he was being shown it as an attempt by Mr Gu to "show off".

"He's very confident, very arrogant," Mr Walker said of Mr Gu.

He rejected Ms Abdiel's claim that he was "wilfully blind" to the possibility that Mr Gu might use investor funds to pay off his Star gambling debts.

"I don't believe I was because I had known of his play level for the previous four or five years and what he was doing was not unusual, this was him," the witness said.

The Star allowed Mr Gu to gamble in a private salon, use the casino's yacht, gifted him a magnum of Grange wine, and flew him to the The Star Gold Coast via private jet as part of "gifts and luxury services" it provided to him, the inquiry was told.

It was also told Mr Walker corresponded with Mr Gu about potential developments in Cairns, lunched with him at Sydney's Rockpool restaurant, and was told to "stay close" to the investment company boss.

Mr Walker, whom the inquiry was told received a $580,000 job offer from Mr Gu to become CEO of Canberra casino as part of a bid for the venue, denied a conflict of interest in his dealings with the iProsperity boss.

""There was no conflict of interest, I was acting hand on heart the way I should," he said, but conceded he "definitely" should have informed his managers of relevant facts in writing.

The witness was quizzed about how a $500,000 gaming debt incurred by Mr Gu was paid by another man, Harry Huang, who also placed an additional $100,000 into the VIP's casino account..

"Did you have any understanding of how Mr Huang had $600,000 he could just drop in cash on a friend?" the barrister asked.

"No ... we relied on the cage to highlight any concerns if it's come from an account that it shouldn't, or any concerns that they had," Mr Walker replied.

Earlier, Mr Walker said local casino players were "poached" by The Star Sydney's lower taxed international rebate program but insisted there was no "epidemic" of the practice, with the casino getting "onto it pretty quickly".

The casino paid the NSW government a lot less tax on international rebate play than on local state play, with local players shifted to the international program effectively giving the casino a bigger tax break, the inquiry was told.

Star's chief casino officer for NSW, Greg Hawkins, took the witness stand late in the day and his evidence is expected to continue on Wednesday.

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