Strained Australia-China Relations Spell Bad News For Casinos

Australia-China relations continue deteriorating, spelling bad news for the Australian casino industry. A five-day diplomatic standoff ended Tuesday that saw the last two Australian reporters working in China return home.

Bill Birtles of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Mike Smith of the Australian Financial Review, landed in Sydney on Tuesday. China held the pair on “national security grounds”, further straining Australia-China relations.

Australian diplomats advised Birtles and Smith to leave China as soon as possible. They were booked onto a flight from Beijing last Thursday.

The rush to get the reporters home came after the disappearance of Cheng Lei. Lei is an Australian-born business journalist working for China’s state-run English news service. The polished presenter delivered a tightly-scripted news update around the world.

Lei disappeared from television screens last month. She stopped all contact with family and friends, and her profile wiped from the CGTN website. The Australian government discovered Lei is held by Chinese authorities at an unknown location.

This bizarre turn of events weakened Australia-China relations and resulted in all Aussie journalists in China returning home.

Seven Chinese police officers visited Birtles’ apartment on Wednesday night. Birtles was enjoying farewell drinks with friends. They told Birtles he couldn’t leave China as he was needed for questioning over a national security case.

Birtles contacted Australian consular officials and they took him to the Australian embassy. Police interviewed him during his four-day stay at the embassy. Smith also went to the embassy. Both were allowed to leave the country in exchange for being interviewed.

Australia-China Relations Are At An All-Time Low

Both Australia and China rely heavily on one another for trade. China is Australia’s key trading partner for iron ore and coal. Australia-China relations have weakened recently with Australia making allegations of Chinese interference in Australian society.

Canberra’s backing into an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic caused these ties to further weaken.

Beijing saw these actions as retaliatory and imposed restrictions on Australian exports. China also stirred things up by publicly warning Chinese tourists and students about racism in Australia.

The two countries are trading political jabs and Australia-China relations are at an all-time low. The evacuation of the last two Aussie journalists means there are no accredited Australian reporters in China for the first time since the mid-1970s. It is difficult to see when Australian reporters will be allowed back into China.

Why Is This Bad News For Aussie Casinos?

The Australian gambling industry is struggling badly. It is the fifth worst-hit gambling industry on the planet. Revenues and, therefore, profits continue tumbling due to a lack of customers.

COVID-19-related travel restrictions mean fewer foreign tourists are visiting our casinos. Chinese VIPs spend billions of dollars in our casinos. It wouldn’t be wrong to claim these gamblers are crucial to casinos’ success.

Well-heeled Chinese nationals love to gamble. Reports of betting $100,000 a hand are commonplace. They also spend vast sums on the most expensive hotel rooms and in the casino’s facilities. The demise of Australia-China relations will stop them travelling, at least officially.

There are ongoing investigations into Crown Resorts and Star Entertainment using casino junkets. These junkets often sneak in VIPs through the backdoor to enable them to visit Aussie casinos. Junkets are not illegal. They are, however, a grey area and frowned upon.

One investigation claimed Chinese VIPs avoided customs and headed straight to Crown Melbourne. VIPs turned up at the casinos with dozens of unchecked bags after arriving on a private jet.

Poor Australia-China relations will see junkets become more prevalent, forcing gambling tourism underground. That is not a good situation for anyone to be in.