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Underworld figures told to avoid casino over $12 billion licence controversy

Jupiters Hotel & Casino is allegedly worried negative publicity could affect their ability to win a new casino licence. Photo: SuppliedNo one’s building casinos in Las Vegas – except James Packer

Underworld figures are being warned to stay away from Jupiters Hotel & Casino in the Gold Coast amid fears their presence could jeopardise owner Echo Entertainment Group’s bid to win a new casino licence in Brisbane worth more than $12 billion.

The gaming giant is allegedly concerned negative publicity or an investigation by regulators could hurt its proposal to build a lavish new casino in the $3 billion Queen’s Wharf waterfront retail and entertainment precinct, which is due to be awarded to either Echo or Crown by the Queensland government this month.

TheSunday Age can reveal that Echo has temporarily scaled back a potentially controversial VIP program that entices interstate high rollers – including underworld figures, their business associates and friends – to Jupiters with offers of complementary trips, free meals and gambling credits.

Some of the men feted by Jupiters have been banned by police from casinos in other states or are subject to self-imposed exclusion orders at other casinos for gambling-related problems.

The promotional services includes staging a “lottery” where interstate players can win tens of thousands of dollars in chips. Participants are also treated to meals at top restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

ASX-listed Echo, which also owns The Star in Sydney and The Treasury in Brisbane, is desperate to keep arch-rival Crown from obtaining the Queen’s Wharf licence and becoming the dominant player in Queensland’s gaming industry.

An Echo Entertainment spokesman denied that Jupiters has been turning away “controversial” high rollers and  said Echo reserved its right to take legal action against The Sunday Age if this “false accusation” affected its contract bid.

The company also refused to comment on the alleged involvement of underworld identities in its interstate VIP program.

“We do not deal in generalities and there are no specifics in terms of identifying any individuals. Regardless, we do not provide information on past or present guests,” the spokesman said.

But one veteran high roller said Echo had become so sensitive about its image that even known friends of friends of underworld figures were being asked to stay away.

“I’ve been going to Jupiters for more than a decade but now they don’t want to know me because things have to stay ‘low key’ until the licence is sorted,” he said.

“They’re more than willing to leech on to you, bleed you dry of money when it’s convenient and then dump you – temporarily, anyways – when it starts to look bad.”

The move to restrict participation in the VIP program comes after Fairfax Media revealed earlier this month that Jupiters has become a haven for interstate gamblers blacklisted by police from casinos in Melbourne and Sydney over their alleged involvement in organised crime.

Echo, the Queensland Police Service and the state’s gaming regulator have failed to stop a number of well-known interstate Mafia identities and suspected drug traffickers from gambling at Jupiters.

While Queensland’s police routinely receive banning notices from law enforcement authorities in New South Wales and Victoria, the force has never blacklisted an interstate person despite being aware they are persons of interest to state, federal and international law enforcement authorities.

Police-sanctioned exclusion orders are designed to prevent the laundering the proceeds of crime through casinos, which have been identified by the Australian Crime Commission and AUSTRAC as highly vulnerable to exploitation by organised crime groups.

The police policy also comes despite Jupiters been identified as a “significant” conduit for money-laundering operations, confidential documents show.

Queensland’s Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation said it was not currently investigating allegations of Echo Entertainment encouraging organised crime figures to gamble at their venue.

The Queensland Police Service said it has no future plans to exclude individuals from casinos based on blacklists in other states or territories.

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