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Top Lotto Scams Targeting Aussies and How to Avoid Them

Scams are all too prevalent in today’s world. With the advent of technology, scammers have since used it to deceive people, prey on their dreams and vulnerabilities, all with the goal of cheating them out of their money.

Say what you will about lotteries, but regulated games such as ones offered by The Lott are transparent. Laws require that they publish the odds and results of the games. In addition, most lotteries must give a portion of their profits to the state to benefit the communities in which they operate.

Lotto scammers, however, use the public’s familiarity with lotto, combined with technology, to con people out of their money. And in the first five months of 2021, Aussies have lost more than $757K to prize and lottery scams.

ACCC Scamwatch

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission was borne of the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010, and the ACCC subsequently created Scamwatch. The goal of the latter was – and still is – to serve as a consumer protection agency, detecting scams and notifying the public of them.

Unfortunately, there are many types of scams perpetrated by criminals, ranging from attempts to garner Aussies’ personal information to setting up fake investment deals and charities. There are scams that try to convince people to work for free or for little money, to threaten to disclose personal information or hack their computers if not paid off, and even to offer items for purchase that don’t actually exist.

One often-successful scam is the attempt to pose as a lottery corporation. Those scammers try to request money in order to forward lottery winnings or a down payment of sorts to secure a competition win.

Three Main Types of Winnings Scams

Scamwatch categorizes lotto-related scams as “unexpected winnings” crimes, of which there are three categories.

  • ) Scratchie scams are fake scratchies that promise a prize, but the winner must pay a fee or provide personal banking information to collect that prize. These scammers encourage “winners” to send money or disclose a photo identification, bank details for a wire transfer, or a debit or preloaded money card.
  • ) Travel prize scams offer people free or discounted holiday packages. For example, a scammer might insist that a person won a holiday worth $3K, but the person must pay $100 or $500 to claim that prize. This happens with everything from theme park tickets to airfare and hotel prize packages. Scammers may also ask for prepaid cards or bank account details to facilitate the winning transaction.
  • ) Lotto scams are common via technology used to claim that a person won a raffle or lotto-style drawing that they may not remember that they entered. Again, scammers will ask for bank details or for the winner to pay a fee for the winnings, such as a fee for taxes or bank transactions.

One of the most brazen lotto scams started years ago via email. The “Australian Lotto Lottery Inc.” sent a “winning notification” to people, stating that that email address was entered into a draw and won. The email listed a “ticket number” and “serial number” supposedly connected to that email address, and that person won $800K from a $2M lotto prize pool. The first ten people to claim it would win.

In addition, by claiming that win, the person will be eligible for an end-of-year international lotto for $1.3B. But for “security reasons,” winner information is not public to prevent “scammers” from trying to steal the prize money.

The email then asked for every piece of personal information from the full name to date of birth, address to occupation, and from nationality to marital status. This gives the scammer all of a person’s personal information they would need to steal that person’s identity. Requests for banking information typically follow soon after.

Money Lost in 2021

Only five months have passed in 2021 thus far, but Aussies have already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to such scams.

In the full “unexpected winnings” category of scams, people have already submitted 2,696 reports in 2021 through May. While those have only included 4.4% with financial losses, those losses added up to $760,866 so far. April was the month in which people lost the most money.

Most scammers connected with victims via social networking sites and text messages.

  • Social networking: 210 reports; $555,540 lost
  • Telephone: 122 reports; $59,832 lost
  • Text messages: 1,784 reports; $56,016 lost
  • Emails: 372 reports; $51,037 lost
  • Mobile apps: 110 reports; $25,133 lost
  • Internet sites: 70 reports; $11,808 lost
  • Mail: 15 reports, $1,500 lost

Females seemed more susceptible and targeted than males, with 71.4% of the money lost coming from women and 28.5% from men. More males reported scams, though. Men reported 40.5% of them, and women reported 58%.

Most scams target the elderly, and they are the most susceptible to scams according to the amount of funds lost.

  • Ages 65 and older: 391 reports; $394,957 lost
  • Ages 55-64: 386 reports; $80,734 lost
  • Ages 45-54: 387 reports; $102,225 lost
  • Ages 35-44: 434 reports; $45,911 lost
  • Ages 25-34: 372 reports; $69,632 lost
  • Ages 18-24: 182 reports; $15,928 lost

Regarding locations, Northern Territory and Tasmania reported no money lost, with ACT reporting only 77 times and little more than $1K lost.

  • New South Wales: 759 reports; $423,579 lost
  • Victoria: 611 reports; $161,257 lost
  • Queensland: 574 reports, $91,770 lost
  • Western Australia: 298 reports; $40,502 lost
  • South Australia: 225 reports; $21,208 lost

The vast majority of the aforementioned numbers and statistics happened in the category of “unexpected prize and lottery scams.”

These followed the same patterns as shown above. Most of the scams reached victims through social networks and texts. And the majority of the victims were over the age of 65, female, and in NSW.

How to Detect Scams

Scamwatch and other consumer protection companies list the various ways that scammers locate and target their victims. There are many ways to absorb this information and protect from becoming the next victim.

  • No official lotto will award a prize to someone who does not enter.
  • No official lotto will contact a winner via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media site or mobile app.
  • Beware of messages on social media from new “friends” or followers.
  • Check a sender’s email address and compare the extension to that which might represent an actual company.
  • No official lotto will send a message or email with misspellings or punctuation and grammatical errors. And they will never request personal information via these methods.
  • Never pay a fee or tax to get winnings. No reputable company requires money to claim winnings.
  • Never provide bank account information or details for credit, debit, or prepaid cards.
  • Phone numbers from calls or texts beginning with 190 are not official.
  • Any valid lotto or company will happily provide their phone number, address, email, and other company information so that you may verify it by calling back.
  • Do not click any link in any text, email, or social networking message.
  • There is no Australian Lottery Corporation or Inc.
  • There is no Australian Online Lottery or Lotto Lottery.
  • There is no Australian International Lottery or Sweepstakes.
  • Never answer an email that starts with “Dear Winner” or misspells your name.
  • No official lotto will use a Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook account for emails.
  • Always verify information with sites like Scamwatch or other consumer protection agencies – or the purported company itself – before responding with information or paying any money.

There are legitimate ways to play and win lottery games in Australia, both in person and online. There are online lotto-style games on internet casinos that operate like slot games and online keno. But if anything triggers suspicions or falls into the categories of warnings above, have a good laugh and delete it.

 

 

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Aristocrat reports half-year profit slump

Australian gaming manufacturer Aristocrat Leisure has reported a significant drop in its half-year profits.

The Market Herald reports that after its operations took a hit from the coronavirus pandemic, the company’s revenue for the six months ending March 31 dropped to around $2.23 billion.

However, after-tax profit fell 73.5 per cent to $346.5 million compared to more than $1.3 billion last year.

The drop was partly due to a 31.4 per cent slide in operating cash flow, which fell from $620 million to $425.1 million after several strategic investments were made to support customer recovery.

Still, Aristocrat Leisure said its portfolio of digital and gaming assets continued to grow over the period, with around 80 per cent of its revenue driven from recurring sources.

Roughly 10.9 per cent of the company’s revenue, or $242.7 million, was put towards game design and development as part of its “refreshed growth strategy and unrelenting commitment to exceptional market-leading product portfolios.”

Notably, Aristocrat saw a 44 per cent jump in purchases for online activities as sweeping lockdown measures kept people at home.

Like many gaming and entertainment companies, Aristocrat Leisure has so far stood down 1000 workers, cut 200 jobs and transferred another 200 full-time positions to part-time roles.

“We expect uncertain and volatile conditions to continue near term and we are closely monitoring key factors including customer sentiment and gaming venue patronage,” managing director Trevor Croker said.

“Nevertheless, we enter the second half of fiscal 2021 with excellent momentum, resilience and confidence with a strong balance sheet to continue to invest organically to grow share and accelerate growth through M&A in line with our rigorous criteria.”

Online gaming jumps as pandemic took hold

The gaming giant also announced a 28.9 per cent jump in player purchases for online activities, to March, as lockdowns forced people to stay at home.

The rise was evident in all online offerings, from casino-style games to puzzles and role-playing games.

The nation’s largest manufacturer of gambling machines will issue a 15 cent interim dividend after reporting a 1 per cent decline in revenue last half-year.

Volumes of machine sales were down 10 per cent as the pandemic disrupted purchasing decisions.

Profits in Australia and New Zealand rose 10 per cent to $85.1 million.

Other regions crashed to a loss of US$9.5 million.

For the six months to March 31, online purchases jumped as pandemic lockdowns kept people away from bricks and mortar casinos and gambling venues.

Revenue for the digital segment jumped 28.8 per cent to $895.8 million in the six months to the March quarter.

The company attributed its growth in sales to a $242.7 million investment in game design, development and technology in the first half.

“The results are reflected in the share growth and margin expansion achieved across digital and key gaming segments in the six months to March 31, 2021,” Mr Croker said.

NSW Minister for Digital and Customer Service Victor Dominello said he was encouraged by the industry’s step up and that venues were embracing a cashless gambling technology trial to combat problem gambling and money laundering.

“I support this digital proposal as it is linked to identity, a bank account and with harm minimisation settings,” he said.

“This will help us combat the twin sins of money laundering and problem gambling, addressing the key concerns of the Bergin inquiry.”

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SkyCity commits to greater leadership diversity

New Zealand headquartered casino operator SkyCity Entertainment has signed up to 40:40 Vision, which pledges a commitment to achieve gender balance across its executive leadership by 2023.

Casino Beats reports that the investor and business-led initiative is aiming to achieve 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent any gender across the leadership of all ASX200 companies by 2030.

SkyCity Entertainment chief people and culture officer Claire Walker said over the past 12 months, SkyCity has constantly challenged itself to increase female representation, particularly in senior leadership roles and has maintained a gender balance across the top four levels of the organisation.

“This has been driven by initiatives which support the development of our female talent pipeline and by ensuring strong female candidates are identified in the recruitment process for all executive roles and any systemic bias in recruitment, development and promotion processes are removed.

“SkyCity is also working to understand intersectionality and its impact on women from ethnic minorities, starting by measuring and understanding our ethnic pay gap.”

SkyCity is also a member of Women in Gaming and Hospitality Australasia, Champions for Change New Zealand and Global Women NZ.

In 2020, the company was awarded the gender tick for the second year in a row in recognition of its commitment to and ongoing work in providing an equitable workplace for all employees.

SkyCity chief executive Michael Ahearne said he is committed to building the capability of SkyCity’s leaders in understanding and leveraging diversity of thought.

“There is clear evidence that having women in leadership roles is not only fairer but leads to better profits and better corporate governance,” he said.

We’ve taken the 40:40 Vision pledge and we’re calling on Australasia’s biggest companies to do the same, drive real change and reap the benefits of having fairer, more inclusive workplaces and stronger business performance.”

In financial news, the casino operator wants to raise $125 million via bonds and has flagged its earnings will be well below pre-pandemic levels.

The gaming, entertainment and hospitality business has released an offer document showing how it can receive an additional $50 million, taking the offer up to $175 million, if it decides to.

“SkyCity has announced an offer of up to $125 million, with the ability to accept over-subscriptions of up to an additional $50 million at SkyCity’s discretion, of six-year, unsecured, unsubordinated, fixed-rate bonds, maturing on May 21, 2027, to institutional investors and New Zealand retail investors,” it said.

The offer opens on May 10 and will close on May 14 and the bonds could get a BBB- rating by S&P Global Ratings.

“Despite positive current trading, there is no change to the previous guidance for financial year 2021, with SkyCity expecting group normalised EBITDA to be well above FY20, but still well below pre-COVID-19 and FY19 levels,” it said.

The operating environment remains unpredictable due to COVID-19, it said, citing the most recent 11-day Auckland closures in February and March.

“Accordingly, SkyCity is unable to provide formal earnings guidance at this time.

“Based on expected performance and assuming no prolonged property closures before the end of FY21, SkyCity expects to meet its financial covenants for the June 30, 2021 testing period and pay a final dividend consistent with the revised dividend policy announced at the time of its 1H21 results,” it said.

The company raised $230 million new equity from shareholders last June and July.

It gave an update on the NZ International Convention Centre project, saying there had been no material change to previous guidance on total costs, which remained at $750 million.

 

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Money laundering suspected at Crown as recently as February

Victoria’s royal commission into Crown Resorts has heard that money laundering was suspected at the casino as recently as February.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that criminal infiltration is suspected to be greater than previously thought, with suspected money laundering identified in 14 new bank accounts that were not examined in last year’s damning Bergin inquiry.

Commissioner Ray Finkelstein, QC, will have to decide on Crown’s suitability to hold its Melbourne casino licence without knowing the full extent of its money laundering problems, the inquiry was told, because the company delayed launching an investigation of its bank account until February.

“Had Crown started that review any earlier than February this year, the results would be known to this commission,” counsel assisting Meg O’Sullivan said.

Crown had delayed launching a full review of its accounts despite its banks warning of suspicious transactions in 2014; reports in August 2019 about money laundering in its accounts; and advice from an external expert to launch a full review in 2019 and again in late 2020.

The Bergin inquiry in NSW found Crown was unfit to run its new Sydney casino, with a key reason being that it facilitated money laundering through two patron deposit bank accounts held through shell companies called Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments.

Ms O’Sullivan said the review currently underway by Deloitte into Crown’s other accounts would reveal if money laundering in those accounts were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

The inquiry heard on Monday that Crown did initially approach Katherine Shamai, an anti-money laundering expert at Grant Thornton, to run a review of its bank accounts in August 2019.

But she did not hear from Crown again until October 2020, when it asked her to review only the Southbank and Riverbank accounts.

She found more than $5 million of suspected criminal transactions between 2013 and 2019.

Crown engaged firms to look into alleged money laundering

Ms Shamai told the inquiry Crown’s lawyers MinterEllison then asked her in January 2021 to begin a review of other accounts linked to Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.

This was two months after Crown told the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation such a review was already underway, Ms O’Sullivan said.

However, Ms Shamai said that in February Crown’s new lawyers Allens told her to cease the almost completed investigation because it was engaging another party to complete the work.

Crown instructed Ms Shamai to only conduct her search of its accounts to a limited number of “typologies” that could indicate illegal behaviour, meaning they could not be called a “full search”, she said.

Ms Shamai could offer no reason why Crown would limit her investigation if it was serious about rooting out examples of suspicious transactions.

Crown is undergoing what it calls a “reform” process to try and improve its money launder controls and governance to win back its Sydney casino licence.

But Ms O’Sullivan told the commission that external experts had already found some of Crown’s new anti-money laundering controls to be deficient, which she raised “serious concerns about Crown’s ability to implement consistent, effective and sustainable reforms to address its past money laundering failures”.

“It’s open to be concluded that Crown’s first steps on its pathway are simply a knee-jerk reaction to the revelations of the Bergin inquiry,” she said.

“Even the supposed new and improved Crown had continuing anti-money laundering problems.”

The inquiry, which must report back by August 1, continues this week.

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Sun and Stars Highlight 2021 Wazdan Online Slot Releases

Since Wazdan launched in 2010, the online slot games developer has grown in size, scope, and technological capabilities. Since its 10th anniversary, the company has been releasing games at a quicker pace. And the games have become more adventurous, with new themes and brighter colors, and even new features like the proprietary Hold the Jackpot mechanic.

Several new games are tapped for release in the coming weeks and months, including Midnight in Tokyo, Prosperity Pearls, and Fortune Reels. As players await those titles, let’s take a look at the five most recent releases in 2021 from Wazdan.

Unicorn Reels: January 2021

Unicorns automatically trigger thoughts of fantasies and dreams, of imaging the unimaginable. In the enchanted forest of Unicorn Reels, players see the incredible artistry of the developers. And creativity leads to action and payouts.

  • 5 reels, 3 rows
  • 10 paylines
  • 14% RTP
  • 1,000x max win
  • $0.10 min bet – $100 max bet
  • Low, medium, or high volatility

This is a more traditional slot game as far as symbols and payouts. The Wild can substitute for any symbol but the Scatter and offers the highest payout of 100x the bet. The yellow horseshoe is the next highest-paying symbol, followed by the green and then the pink/purple horseshoes.

Scatters contribute to solid payouts and need not be on a payline to show a win, but they do not lead to any free spins in this game.

The most sought-after symbol, however, is the unicorn. Five unicorns on the grid triggers the Unicorn Jackpot Game. The unicorn symbols stick to their places, as the grid opens to a 5×5 screen. Play then starts with three respins, though each time a new symbol appears, that respin counter goes back to three. When no new unicorns appear and respins are exhausted, the bonus round is over. But that’s when the payout calculation begins.

The lowest possible payout is for the five original unicorn symbols, and that equals 10x the original bet. That increases with unicorns, though, to 20x for 10 total unicorns, 120x for 16 unicorns, and 540x for 24 unicorns.

There are also three jackpot possibilities for hitting certain unicorn milestones:

  • Minor: 15 unicorns for 100x jackpot
  • Major: 20 unicorns for 200x jackpot
  • Grand: 25 unicorns for 1000x jackpot

Gem Splitter: February 2021

Online slot game developers, as well as those in the live slot machine realm, have been trying to find ways to take regular gems – diamonds, rubies, etc. – and give them new life. Wazdan did just that with Gem Splitter. They used multiways payouts and the relatively new Symbol Splitter feature to provide more action than traditional gems are accustomed to.

  • 5 reels, 3 rows
  • 243-59,049 ways to win
  • 27% RTP
  • 9,000x max win
  • $0.10 min bet – $100 max bet
  • Low, medium, or high volatility

The highest-paying symbol in Gem Splitter is the red ruby at 100x the bet for 15 on a payline, followed by the green emerald. The yellow and blue gems also have reasonable payouts. Payouts happen for anything from 3-15 symbols on a payline.

In this game, the Splitter is the most obvious feature. It happens on every spin, with one randomly-selected gem splitting into one of five different combinations. The combinations that create one gem on top of another increase the number of paylines available, and the ones to the left or right of each other increase the payouts.

At least three Scatter symbols activate 10 free spins. During that bonus round, if a symbol shows the +3FS, it means the player receives an additional three free spins. Another unique feature of the bonus round is that the Splitter operates by splitting a symbol on every spin into four, which is the maximum way to increase paylines and payouts.

Clover Lady: February 2021

Even though the Clover Lady has no name, she is the star of this game. She lives in the woods with her wolf, and only they can guide players through the enchanted forest. Combine somewhat traditional features with Wazdan’s Hold the Jackpot mechanic, and Clover Lady becomes an exciting adventure.

  • 6 reels, 3 rows
  • 10 paylines
  • 21% RTP
  • 3,500x max win
  • $0.10 min bet – $100 max bet
  • Low, medium, or high volatility

The best symbol to see on the board is the Direwolf, who incidentally sits to the right of the grid, looking friendly and watching the action. When his howling symbol appears on the grid with a spin, it multiplies any win by 1.5x. Each additional one on the same spin adds another .5x to the multiplier.

The Wild is the clover, which can substitute for anything except the Bonus and wolf, andit pays as much as 100x for six on a payline. The red, sparkling strawberry is the next best symbol, followed by the blue plum.

The Clover Lady herself is the Bonus symbol, and three of those on a spin activates the Clover Jackpot Bonus. This makes all Bonus and wolf symbols sticky, and they stay in place for the rest of the bonus round. Bonus symbols may appear anywhere but then move to the middle row, and wolf symbols appear only on the top and bottom rows.

The bonus game begins with three respins, but anytime a new Bonus or wolf appears and sticks, the spinner resets to three. When those are complete and no new symbols appear, the bonus is over. The wolves pay as previously explained for the ultimate multiplier, with a maximum of 7x. And filling the board with six Bonus symbols and 12 wolves ensures the game’s maximum payout of 3,500x the bet.

The four jackpots shown at the top of the screen during all gameplay as a teaser for jackpots available during the Clover Jackpot Bonus round. They equal:

  • Mini: 3 bonus symbols = 10x the bet
  • Minor: 4 bonus symbols = 25x the bet
  • Major: 5 bonus symbols = 50x the bet
  • Grand: 6 bonus symbols = 500x the bet

Burning Stars 3: March 2021

The third iteration of Burning Stars is better than ever. Wazdan took the popularity of the original game and has continued to improve on it. In this case, it actually helped to simplify the game but add the wildly popular Hold the Jackpot feature.

  • 3 reels, 3 rows
  • Unlisted paylines
  • 12% RTP
  • 2,187x max win
  • $0.10 min bet – $100 max bet
  • Low, medium, or high volatility

The Wild symbol substitutes for all others except the Bonus, as is expected. There are only a few symbols in the game, considering the grid is 3×3, and the highest paying is the red seven, which pays 200x the bet. The watermelon pays 50x, and the plum reduces it to 15x for nine symbols. The kicker for Burning Stars 3 is that symbols need not be on a particular payline, but there must be at least four on the board to constitute a win.

The Hold the Jackpot feature works as in the previous game. The difference is that the Bonus symbol in this game is the blazing globe of fire in the sky. When three of them appear on a spin, Hold the Jackpot begins with those Bonus symbols held in place. Players start with three respins and resets to three with every spin that produces a new symbol.

Three Bonus globes garner a simple 3x payout, but it increases quickly to 27x for five of them. The jackpots then kick in:

  • Mini: 6 symbols = 81x the bet
  • Minor: 7 symbols = 243x the bet
  • Major: 8 symbols = 729x the bet
  • Grand: 9 symbols = 2,187x the bet

Sun of Fortune: April 2021

Carrying over the brilliant, bright colors from Burning Stars 3, Sun of Fortune is filled with oranges and reds, fires and dragons, all playing out on a beautifully-decorated red background. The Asian-inspired game takes a simple 4×4 grid and dresses up every symbol. With that said, the Hold the Jackpot feature is the primary attraction.

  • 4 reels, 4 rows
  • Unlisted paylines
  • 15% RTP
  • 1,450x max win
  • $0.10 min bet – $100 max bet
  • Low, medium, or high volatility

Sun of Fortune is similar to the previous game in the way it pays as well. There are no official paylines, but when at least 8 of a particular symbol show up after a spin, they can be anywhere on the grid to pay. The gold dragon is the most lucrative one at 200x for the entire 16-square grid. The next on the list of payouts is the golden bird, then the golden lion and fish. The Wild substitutes for everything but the Bonus symbols.

The Hold the Jackpot feature is triggered by the blazing suns. Six of them trigger the bonus round, but simply hitting three, four, or five of them triggers a free respin with those suns holding for more. It is a second chance to hit the Jackpot feature.

Again, the player begins with three respins, as each new symbol sticks. That resets the respin counter to three, and this continues until the board is full or three continuous spins produce no new symbols.

Each symbol offers a dollar amount that is equal to 1x-10x, 12x, or 15x the bet. The suns can also display mini, minor, or major jackpots. And if all 16 symbols hit, the player wins the grand jackpot. They pay as:

  • Mini jackpot: 20x the bet
  • Minor jackpot: 50x the bet
  • Major jackpot: 150x the bet
  • Grand jackpot: 1,000x the bet

Where to Play Wazdan Games

All Wazdan games allow players to set their own volatility levels. Low increases the chance that players will hit more wins but lower wins, and high lessens the wins but increases their value. Medium is somewhere in between.

Players can also hit the shopping cart button on any game to purchase the Hold the Jackpot Bonus. This is expensive, though, as it costs 70x the bet. The hope is to recoup that cost with the bonus, but it is a risky bet.

The best way to familiarize with Wazdan games is to visit the Wazdan website’s games page. Simply click on any game to see the technical details or play the demo version. It allows players to experiment with all of the features and the volatility levels to see what works best before playing for real money.

When ready for that real-money casino action, click on through for our bonuses below.

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Aquis committed to $330m Canberra casino redevelopment

The $330 million proposed redevelopment of Casino Canberra is back on the table, with the venue’s operator, Aquis Entertainment, planning to resume talks with the ACT government about the plan.

Inside Asian Gaming reports that Aquis chairman Tony Fung told shareholders during the company’s annual general meeting that redeveloping the casino remained an important part of Aquis’ future, despite having seen talks stall on multiple occasions due to disagreements over the number of poker machines able to be installed.

We do remain committed to the redevelopment of the property and we believe that the post COVID-19 recovery in Canberra is the greatest opportunity to do so,” he said.

“We will be holding discussions with the government this year to discuss the conditions in place in relation to the redevelopment and electronic gaming machines and we look forward to the opportunity to deliver to Canberra the kind of world class entertainment precinct that our capital city deserves and to creating many new employment opportunities and further securing all existing roles within our business.”

Aquis, which purchased Casino Canberra in 2014, submitted its original redevelopment plans in 2015, including a request for permission to install up to 500 poker machines.

Casino Canberra is not permitted to operate poker machines under the current legislation.

The company’s initial bid was rejected in December 2018, with the government describing the proposal as untenable due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding regulation and financing details.

Instead, the ACT government issued a counter offer under which Aquis would be permitted to run 200 poker machines and 60 electronic gaming machines subject to strict conditions.

Aquis has largely balked at the reduced offering since.

Nevertheless, Fung said that redevelopment of the casino “still forms part of our longer-term strategy for growth in Canberra.”

Unexplained share price spike for Aquis

Aquis recently reported a profit of A$798,201 in 2020, reversing an A$4 million loss in 2020. In March, Aquis shares exploded, rising 48.89 per cent in a single day. The move caps off what has been a wild ride for Aquis over 2021.

Aquis is a company that until 2021, had been drifting in relative obscurity for years. Between mid-2015 and the end of 2020, the company had slowly lost around 80 per cent of its value. In 2020, Aquis even touched the depressingly low share price of less than half a cent.

2021 has seen a dramatic reversal in the fortune of the company.

After starting the year at four cents a share, it rocketed almost 2000 per cent between February 16 and 25, when it reached a new all-time high of 82 cents a share.

The difference between this company’s 52-week low and 52-week high is an astonishing 27,233 per cent.

The share price has subsequently slid from those highs, but remains well above where it was two months ago.

Aquis is a gaming company whose flagship asset is Casino Canberra, the only licenced casino in the Australian Capital Territory.

Beyond this, the company also states that it is “actively looking to grow its Australian operations”.

Casino Canberra offers everything you would expect from a casino, including entertainment, bars and restaurants, accommodation and gambling facilities.

Experts have found it hard to pin down one of the strangest movements that has occurred on the ASX this year.

Aquis paused trading on February 18 after an ASX query into the massive price movements that occurred in the days prior.

In response, Aquis said: “The company is not aware of any information concerning it that has not been announced to the market and which could be an explanation for the recent trading in the company’s securities.”

 

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Crown anti-money laundering training called into question

Training about the perils of money laundering was only given to members of Crown Resorts board two months ago, the Victorian royal commission into the besieged casino operator has heard.

The Australian Financial Review reports that the first time Crown Resorts directors received anti-money laundering training in person was last March.

Before that, the training was conducted online.

Giving evidence at the royal commission examining the suitability of Crown Resorts to operate its Melbourne casino, Crown’s head of anti-money laundering, Nick Stokes, said: “I believe the only training they had received was the online module,” which could take as little as 30 minutes.

I believe the only training they had received was the online module,” Stokes claimed.

Mr Stokes, who joined Crown in November 2019 following media revelations of money laundering linked to Crown’s junket programs, said the recent face-to-face training was run by Steven Blackburn, Crown’s new chief compliance and financial crimes officer.

Mr Stokes said when he joined Crown he had to copy in the chief executive, Ken Barton, to request more resources to beef up the anti-money laundering program.

“My direct supervisor at the time, former general counsel Josh Preston, didn’t believe that we needed the amount of resources that I was after,” he said.

Victoria’s royal commission was sparked by the NSW Bergin inquiry, which found Crown unfit to open its Sydney casino because it had facilitated the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars via its partnerships with junket operators with links to criminal gangs and triads.

Crown announced its decision to axe junket partnership last Wednesday, the evening before the group was due to front the royal commission for the first time over its failure to prevent money laundering and criminal infiltration via its junket program.

Junkets are organised by gambling tours for foreign VIP high-rollers.

Royal commissioner Ray Finkelstein cast doubt on whether Crown’s decision to axe junkets at its Melbourne casino would be enough to prevent organised crime and money laundering from reinfiltrating the casino giant.

He flagged concerns that high-rollers previously linked to junket operators would now be dispersed and could just turn up at Crown to launder money unless Crown committed to doing deep background checks on them.

Mr Finkelstein asked Murray Lawson, the Deloitte consultant hired by Crown to examine its money laundering risks, if the players previously linked to junkets would effectively be put on a watch list because they were higher risk.

All the players who…previously came here through a junket operator…Crown is likely to go and chase them directly – that makes business sense?” Commissioner Finkelstein asked.

“Possibly,” Dr Lawson said, adding it would depend on the kind of new customer relationship Crown had with them, indicating they could be folded into standard anti-money laundering checks done on regular players.

Dr Lawson told the commission Crown withheld due diligence reports on key junket operators linked to organised crime from him when he was examining its anti-money laundering systems in 2020.

The reports, on junket operators linked to organised crime such as Alvin Chau’s Suncity and another operator, convicted criminal Song Zezhai, were deemed “too sensitive” by Crown former top legal counsel, Josh Preston, to be subject to review.

Counsel assisting, Penny Neskovcin, QC, told the inquiry in her opening remarks that Suncity produced a turnover at Crown Melbourne that “exceeded’ $20.5 billion in the 2015-18 financial years.

Overall, Crown’s revenue from junkets in the 2017 financial year was approximately $200 million, in 2018 it was $400 million and in 2019 it dropped to $300 million, she said.

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Crown shareholders request the operator to contemplate takeover bids

Crown Resorts shareholders are rumbling for the embattled casino operator to start a formal sale process.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the casino group received a $12 billion merger proposal from its Sydney rival The Star in recent weeks, while US private equity group Blackstone also upped its takeover bid from $8 billion to $8.3 billion.

The Helen Coonan-led board of Crown has so far remained tight-lipped on the takeover speculation, while shareholders are eager for a deal to happen.

Crown’s third largest shareholder, Perpetual, owner of about eight per cent of Crown’s share, just behind suitor Blackstone (10 per cent) and James Packer (37 per cent), which has called the company to immediately start a fast-tracked sale process.

Wilson Asset Management portfolio manager John Ayoub agreed that Crown should open a data room and invite bidders to inspect its books now to get the best deal for shareholders.

“You’ve got multiple parties coming to the table, we would like to see them canvassing as many opinions as they can,” said Mr Ayoub, whose fund owns shares in both Crown and The Star.

“Silence has been their tactic to date and it’s smoked out tw or three potential bidders.

“I think going forward, providing a data room and a transparent and open process is going to be the most beneficial thing for shareholders to see where value can be realised.”

US buyout fund Oaktree has also offered Crown $3 billion in funding to selectively buy back some or all of James Packer’s shares.

Sydney fund manager VGI Partners, which owns around $40 million of Crown shares and a smaller amount of The Star, said it saw the merger as “fair and reasonable and hope that the Crown board will engage with Star.”

“While we think the Blackstone and Oaktree bids materially undervalued Crown and the merger proposal from Star is…a lot more interesting and appealing to us,” VGI executive chairman Rob Luciano said.

“As long-term investors, we’d prefer to keep our capital invested in a great asset that can continue to compound over time and create meaningful shareholder value rather than sell for a quick profit.”

Mr Luciano said that Crown and Star had both recently completed a period of significant capital investment, setting up a merged entity to be highly cash flow generative that could de leverage quickly and then start delivering material shareholder returns.

Crown fields offers from multiple bidders

Blackstone is offering more up-front cash for Crown shareholders in its takeover bid ($12.35) but most market analysts say that The Star’s nil-premium cash-and-scrip merger will deliver more value through the COVID-19 recovery, if it delivers on promised cost savings.

The Star’s proposal is to buy back up to a quarter of Crown’s share at 412.50.

Shareholders in both companies would be issued stock in the new company as a swap rate of 2.68 Star shares for each Crown share.

The Star says that it could find $150-200 million worth of annual savings by merging with Crown, worth around $2 billion in equity value, which makes it offer worth $14 a share.

The Star’s CEO Matt Bekier also flagged this week he would look for a further windfall by selling and leasing back the merger group’s property portfolio, which would span two casinos in Melbourne, two in Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth.

It is increasingly common in the casino and hotel industry to split up the ownership and operation of properties, with Blackstone involved in such a deal with MGM in Las Vegas and is considered by analysts and investors as a possible property partner with The Star if the merger goes ahead.

Crown shares closed at $13.04 on Friday, up 2.3 per cent for the day and up 7.6 per cent since The Star’s proposal was revealed a week ago.

The Star’s shares closed 2.8 per cent higher Friday and are up one per cent for the week at $4.06.

 

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Blackstone’s bid for Crown Resorts is formally rejected

Crown Resorts has formally rejected a takeover offer from one of its potential suitors.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Blackstone’s takeover offer, valued at $8.3 billion, has been rejected, but The Star’s merger proposal remains in play.

The James Packer-backed casino operator told the ASX that the US private equity firm’s revised offer of $12.35 a share, up from the initial offer of $11.85, still “undervalued” the company and was “not in the best interests of shareholders”.

Stock in the company edged up 0.28 per cent $13.07 in mid-morning trade on Monday.

The rejection of the Blackstone offer came moments before public hearings commenced at Victoria’s royal commission into Crown’s suitability to hold a licence at its Melbourne casino on Monday morning.

The Victorian probe was sparked by the NSW Bergin inquiry, which found the company unfit to open its $2.2 billion Barangaroo casino because the company facilitated the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars linked up with Asian triads via its high roller junket program.

The Crown board, led by executive chairman Helen Coonan, concluded Blackstone’s offer was inadequate after taking “considered feedback from shareholders” and advice from financial and legal advisers.

The board also said it believed Blackstone faced significant uncertainty as to the timing and outcome of the regulatory approval processes.

Crown said Blackstone’s revised proposal “as currently understood presented an unacceptable level of regulatory uncertainty for Crown shareholders.”

The decision comes days after Perpetual’s head of equities urged Crown to open its data room to kick off the formal sale process on Thursday.

Perpetual holds eight per cent of the company.

Crown Board cools off Blackstone takeover talks

Mr Packer, who has not made public comments on the takeover or merger proposals, holds 37 per cent of Crown’s stock.

But the “board unanimously concluded that the Revised Proposal undervalues Crown and is not in the best interests of Crown’s shareholders”, the company said.

“The board has had regard to discussions with Blackstone and various legal authorities. The board has considered feedback from shareholders.”

Blackstone’s timeline for gaining regulatory approval from the NSW gaming regulator also played into the board’s decision to reject the offer.

“Despite Blackstone’s modification of these conditions, the board believes there is significant uncertainty as to the timing and outcome of the regulatory approval processes.

“As a result, the conditions of the revised proposal as currently understood present an unacceptable level of regulatory uncertainty for Crown shareholders,” the company said.

Separately, Crown Resorts also told the market it was still assessing The Star merger proposal and “has requested Star to provide certain information to allow the Crown Board to better understand various preliminary matters.”

The company advised shareholders it did not need to take any action in relation to the merger proposal at this stage because “there is no certainty that the merger proposal will result in a transaction.”

In mid-April, investment company Oaktree proposed to takeover Crown, with details of an investment funding of nearly $3 billion to Crown in order to buy back “some or all” of the shares held by CPH.

Oaktree would “provide a funding commitment of up to A$3 billion to Crown via a structured instrument, with the proceeds to be used by Crown to buy back some or all of the Crown shares, which are held by CPH on a selective basis.”

CPH holds a share ownership in Crown of about 37 per cent, making Mr Packer the largest investor in the nation’s largest gaming group.

Mr Packer’s influence over the Crown board as majority shareholder has been scrutinised by a NSW probe into the casino that determined the company was not suitable to hold a gaming licence in the state because of evidence of mismanagement and money laundering.

Findings from the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry also found Mr Packer was not a suitable person to be associated with the casino.

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Star follows the example of casino rivals and bans junkets

Australia’s second largest casino operator has decided to cease working with international junket operators.

Inside Asian Gaming reports that Star Entertainment Group reached an agreement with the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to cease its relationship with junket operators.

In an update provided by ILGA chair Philip Crawford, where he discussed Crown’s progress in overturning its unsuitability to run its Barangaroo casino, it was revealed Star had reached an agreement that would see it no longer work with international junket operators.

New South Wales becomes the second Australian state to implement a junket ban after the Gaming and Wagering Commission of Western Australia, which oversees Crown Perth, outlined similar plans in February.

New Zealand’s SkyCity Entertainment Group announced in April that it would permanently cease all dealings with junket operators and bring its international VIP operations in-house, following a strategic review into the company’s International Business division.

Asked Thursday about how the absence of junkets might impact the feasibility of Crown’s AU$2.2 billion Crown Sydney development, which has been billed as a “high rollers casino” Crawford said, “My understand from Helen Coonan is that they’ve scrapped their VIP program completely and how they’re going to survive without international guests, that’s a business plan issue that is not my purview.

“Their restaurants and bars are open and people tell me they’re booming but they’ve got their own business model, they’re doing their own numbers and they’ll have to assess that as they’re going forward.

“My understanding is that the VIP program Crown had is gone.”

Junkets a thing of the past for SkyCity

SkyCity said it has determined to permanently cease dealing with all junket operators and will instead operate its International Business under a revised operating model.

That model will see SkyCity “deal directly with International Business patrons after appropriate Know Your Customer and customer due diligence requirements are satisfied.”

The company added that it will consult with relevant gaming regulators in New Zealand, where it operates casinos in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington and in Australia, where it recently completed an A$330 million upgrade of SkyCity Adelaide.

295 transactions linked with junkets were made in Melbourne in 2020, according to figures from Australia’s financial crimes watchdog.

In total, the Victorian casino made 50,000 reports to the watchdog in 2019, including almost 5000 relating to suspicious transactions.

AUSTRAC warned junket tour operators this month they were the target of organised criminal syndicates and foreign spies seeking to launder money through casinos and potentially make political donations.

Junkets bring in high roller gamblers from China to casinos and extend credit to them, enabling them to get around Beijing’s tight controls on capital.

AUSTRAC introduced a new risk assessment that identified some tour operators had links with criminal organisations.

Businesses, including casinos, are required to report any people or transactions that could be linked with crime using a suspicious matter report.

AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose said casinos needed to comply with the rules to disrupt criminal activities, including foreign interference.

“Money laundering and financial crime enables serious criminal activity such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, which causes harm to our communities,” Ms Rose said.

“I urge casinos to take prompt action by assessing their levels of risk posed by junket operators, strengthening their controls and reporting suspicious activity to Austrac.”

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