Chinese High Roller Gambled $2 Billion at Star in 14 Years

Star Entertainment was left with some explaining to do after it was revealed one customer spent more than $2 billion in 14 years.

Most of us enjoy a little bit of gambling. We bet on sports, and visit online casinos to play pokies and blackjack, but some gamblers take it to the extreme. Step forward Mr Phillip Dong Fang Lee, a Chinese high roller, who spent more than $2 billion at The Star Sydney in the 14 years to 2001. The Star accommodated Mr Lee in every way they could due to his enormous turnover.

Star Entertainment Group’s general manager of financial crime Kevin Houlihan this week gave evidence at the Star Sydney inquiry. Naomi Sharp SC, counsel assisting the inquiry grilled Houlihan about Mr Lee’s $2 billion spend.

A lengthy document detailed Mr Lee’s turnover from July 2007 to June 2021. Mr Lee turned over $2.275 billion during those 14 years. His total losses stack up to $57 million. However, Houlihan pointed out those losses are not 100% accurate because of the way Star calculates the figures.

High Roller Funded Much of His $2 Billion Spree With China UnionPay

Houlihan admitted Mr Lee was one of the group’s largest patrons by turnover. Indeed, some Star customers spent in excess of Mr Lee’s $2 billion.

The inquiry heard Mr Lee frequently used the China UnionPay debit card to deposit and withdraw vast sums of money. Mr Lee withdrew at least $100 million using this method. Previously, Mr Lee revealed he used the Chinese debit card to make an $11 million deposit at The Star Sydney. The casino disguised this transfer as hotel expenses, while Mr Lee spent it in a single day.

Star banned Mr Lee in June 2021 because the Australian Tax Office pursued him. The Federal Court froze $237 million of the property developer’s assets in November 2021.

Another Chinese High Roller Causes Star Headaches

It is not only Mr Lee and his $2 billion spend that caused Star headaches because another Chinese high roller came to light. Property mogul Huang Xiangmo deposited $1.7 billion at the casino between 2010 and 2018. Star executives never challenged Mr Xiangmo about the source of his wealth.

Mr Xiangmo filed for Australian citizenship but the authorities denied him. This is because Xiangmo made illegal brides to high-level politicians. In addition, he stands accused of working for the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. The unit gathers intelligence to influence elite individuals and non-Chinese organisations.

Xiangmo landed on the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) radar in 2015. He withdrew $100,000 in cash, stuffed it in a shopping bag, and delivered it to Labor HQ in Sydney. The withdrawal went uninvestigated.

Star eventually looked into Xiangmo after they realised he used three different passports when providing ID at the casino. However, they continued accepting Xiangmo’s custom. Star officials argued that it is normal for Chinese nationals to have more than one passport. They made excuses for those passports having different dates of birth displayed.

Star Gets New Interim Executive Chairman

The under-fire casino announced its new interim Executive Chairman while the case of the $2 billion man rambled on. Mr John O’Neill assumes the role effective immediately. O’Neill replaces outgoing Matt Bekier, who resigned this week.

Mr O’Neill was already the company’s chairman but now has executive powers. Those additional powers come with additional remuneration of $1,500,000 per year, or $125,000 per month. This extra money takes Mr O’Neill’s payment package to $2,001,458 per year while he is in the new role.

“The Star advises that Mr John O’Neill AO will assume the role of Executive Chairman on an interim basis, effective immediately.

“Executive search firm Spencer Stuart has commenced the search for a new Managing Director and CEO following the resignation of Mr Matt Bekier, announced March 28. Mr Bekier will be available in the short term to provide handover assistance as the board requests.”