CASINO TABLES TURN ON JUNKET QUEEN From The Australian 9-10 March 2002
Not long after Crown Casino opened, gambler Jia Feng Chen decided she liked the view from the other side of the table. By September 2000 she was a registered and successful junket operator, bringing millions of dollars of revenue to Crown.
Capitalising on her fluent Mandarin, her contacts and knowledge of high-stakes gambling gained from inside the elite room, Ms Chen began soliciting high rollers for organised junkets in the late 1990's.
Junkets operators are registered by Crown and spruik for business to a mainly Asian clientele in Australia or overseas. All money gambled by those taking part in the junket goes through the account of the organiser and commission is calculated on turnover.
With up to 10 players turning over millions in the Casino, Ms Chen could earn up to $100,000 each month, while enjoying a lifestyle that included free limousines, flights, accommodation and designer clothes.
But, while earning more in a month as a junket operator than she would in a year on staff at the casino, Ms Chen never lost her passion for gambling. In October 2000, she blew at least $1million on the same tables to which she enticed others, including $800,000 of winnings from one of her junket members, Wu Guo Wei, as well as $219,000 borrowed from Crown. Ms Chen is now missing.
The secretive world of high-rolling gamblers and junket operators such as Ms Chen played out in the Victorian Supreme Court this week when Wu Gou Wei sued Crown for $800,000 in winnings he claimed the casino failed to pay him.
Entry into Crown's Mahogany Room is only available to VIP card holders. Staff describe a 'fantasy world' far removed from the regular gaming tables.
Crown's management always struggles to fill positions inside the room because of the large sums involved and the behaviour of some high-rollers, for whom anything goes 'as long as you keep spending money.'
Mr Wu, who described himself as a 'businessman, not a professional gambler', was convinced to take part in a junket to Crown by Ms Chen during a visit to Sydney's Star City Casino while at the Olympics with his family.
On September 29 - after a three day spree at Crown during which he turned over $4 million on the baccarat tables - Mr Wu was up by 1.1 million and ready to cash in his chips.
The Queensland-based businessman, who also has homes in China and Singapore, claimed he was given a $300,000 cheque and collected a $56,000 cash commission for joining the junket.
He was supposed to receive the remaining $800,000 in US dollars by telegraphic transfer to a Singapore account.
Mr Wu told the court a cashier had told him there would be 'no problem' transferring the money because they had his banking details following a $200,000 transfer two months before.
But Crown then said problems with Mr Wu's account details caused the money to be credited instead to Ms Chen.
A fax to Mr Wu by Ms Chen in October said there had been 'discrepancies' with the businessman's account preventing the casino from transferring the money. She said while she had managed to get the casino to remit the money to her, guests on another junket had gambled away all their money as well as Mr Wu's. 'We had bad luck and we lost the whole battle," the fax said. 'While I have now is great regret. I sincerely hope this would not affect your business in Singapore.'
Then in November 2000, Mr Wu encountered Ms Chen with her husband, gambling at Sydney's Star City Casino.
'She said she would sue Crown for seducing her to gamble," Mr Wu told the court through an interpreter.
Crown settled Mr Wu's claim on Tuesday but will not comment on Ms Chen's whereabouts or if efforts have been made to track her down.
Mr Wu's experience did not sour his view of Crown, where he stayed and gambled while the case was heard. He was still there last night. He did not consider the $800,000 as anything more than small change, telling the court it was "not really a big sum of money".
A generous commission of between 1.4 and 1.6 per cent of all his gambling turnover attracted Mr Wu to the junket. A former worker in the Mahogany Room said high-rollers loved junkets because the organisers handled all accommodation, food and drinks for the gamblers, as well as minding and cashing in chips for the players.
'Keeping track of the chips is important for these guys because a million-dollar chip is the size of (a) book,' the former staff member said.
'Strict casino rules are
bent, people can behave like children, even threaten dealers and not get
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