SHANGHAI (AP) — Australian and Chinese casino employees stood trial Monday on charges relating to gambling, which is illegal in mainland China, in a case that highlights the sensitivity of doing certain businesses in China.
Three Australians from the sales and marketing team of Australia's Crown Resorts Ltd. were among the 19 listed for trial on suspicion of gambling at the Baoshan District People's Court in Shanghai. They were arrested in October during raids in four cities in China.
Chinese authorities said in November that it would prosecute employees of Crown Resorts for allegedly violating strict Chinese gambling regulations.
The three Australians include Jason O'Connor, the Melbourne-based head of Crown's International VIP programs, who was arrested en route to Shanghai airport. The others are Australian-Chinese dual nationals Jerry Xuan and Jenny Pan. All three have been in custody since October.
At least half of the 19 had been on bail awaiting trial, according to an officer from the court's propaganda office who only gave his surname, Li.
On Monday morning, defendants, lawyers and representatives from the Australian Consulate General in Shanghai entered the court building without talking to media. About five Chinese women thought to be defendants arrived at the court wearing air pollution masks that covered their faces.
Crown's vice-president in China, Malaysian Alfread Gomez, was also on trial.
Casino gambling and the promoting of gambling are illegal in mainland China and agents are banned from organizing groups of more than 10 Chinese citizens to gamble abroad. According to Chinese law, anyone who "runs a gambling house or makes gambling his profession" can face up to three years in prison.
However, gambling is allowed in the Chinese enclave of Macau — Asia's gambling center — and Chinese are often coveted by foreign casinos.
The industry has been known to skirt China's ban by touting destination packages rather than gambling, particularly as Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing corruption crackdown has deterred some gamblers from Macau.
Li, the officer from the court's propaganda office, said Friday that family members and consulate staff would be allowed to attend the trial, which was expected to last one day.
Watt reported from Beijing. AP news assistant Fu Ting contributed to this report.