By Mike Cherney
SYDNEY--Authorities in China released 10 employees of Australian casino company Crown Resorts Ltd. on Wednesday after they were convicted last month for gambling offenses, according to a person familiar with the matter, in a closely watched case for the global casino industry.
Two of the 10 released employees are Australian citizens, Jane Pan Dan and Jerry Xuan, the person familiar with the case said. A third Australian, Jason O'Connor, who led Crown's international VIP program, remains in custody.
Another Crown employee is expected to be released Thursday, the person familiar with the matter said. This person said the employees were released because their nine-month sentences had been served. Mr. O'Connor, however, received a 10-month sentence, as did four other employees. The Wednesday releases were expected and the sentences included time served.
Last month, Crown said 17 current and two former employees--including the three Australian citizens--were convicted by a Shanghai court of gambling offenses; 16 people received jail sentences.
Another three people were convicted but didn't have to serve jail time. They were released on bail in November.
The current and former Crown staff members were first detained by Chinese authorities in October in surprise raids that sent chills through the global gaming industry. Chinese high-rollers had become important revenue sources for many casinos, though some companies said their international VIP businesses slowed in the months following the arrests.
Most of the detained Crown employees held sales and marketing positions targeting different regions of China. Gambling is illegal in mainland China and foreign casinos aren't allowed to directly advertise their gambling operations, though they can promote themselves more broadly by touting beaches and shopping.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which had been providing consular assistance to the three detained Australians, confirmed that two Australian citizens were released Wednesday.
The current and former Crown staff members could have been sentenced to up to three years in prison. Crown's decision to sell its stake in a Macau casino operator after the detentions likely helped influence the granting of lenient sentences, Hans Hendrischke, a professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney Business School, said last month.
Since the arrests, Crown--controlled by billionaire James Packer--has scaled back its global ambitions; it also exiting a Las Vegas casino project. The company, with casinos in Melbourne and Perth, is building a new casino and resort complex on Sydney's waterfront and developing a new hotel in Melbourne.
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