Crown flies in big spenders

Crown has started flying its three luxury jets to emerging Asian economies including Thailand and Cambodia as it trawls the region for high-rollers, an analysis of flight data reveals.

Crown has started flying its three luxury jets to emerging Asian economies including Thailand and Cambodia as it trawls the region for high-rollers, an analysis of flight data reveals.

Data from Airservices Australia shows that Crown's fleet of private jets is increasingly flying to overseas destinations.

The three years of flight data, obtained by BusinessDay under freedom of information laws, shows that travel to Thailand increased in 2012.

Crown's jets made no trips between Australia and Thailand in 2010 and 2011 but made 22 last year. However, there is typically a gap of several days before flights return to Australia, indicating that Crown may be using the country as a stopover for destinations in Europe or the Middle East.

The fleet made four trips between Australia and Cambodia in 2012, none in 2011 and five in 2010.

Crown's expanding high-roller business has pushed the number of flights between Australia and overseas destinations taken by the VIP fleet from 116, or 41 per cent of flights, in 2010, to 167, or 60 per cent, last year.

The high-roller operation, or "VIP commission program", is a key part of its business, responsible for almost a third of revenue.

High rollers brought in revenue of $797 million in 2011-12, up from $583 million in the previous year.

But the high-roller business is not without its risks, including bounced cheques, lawsuits from aggrieved gamblers and the danger they might beat the house, costing millions.

The Airservices Australia data reveals that some of Crown's Asian markets seem to be in decline but the company has tapped into new sources of high rollers.

While the number of flights between Australia and Malaysia fell from 32 in 2010 to seven in 2012, business with Indonesia picked up, increasing from nine flights in 2010 to 18 in 2012.

However, competition for Asian whales is fierce. In addition to offering free private flights to high rollers willing to come to Australia to gamble, Crown showers whales with gifts including food, drink and penthouse hotel suites.

Flights are clustered around Chinese New Year in February and Melbourne's spring racing carnival in October.

The casino group flies three Gulfstream IV jets, including one bearing the tail number VH CCC that was reportedly formerly used by the CIA to secretly transport terrorism suspects.

They are in frequent use, with an average of 23 flights a month passing through Australian airspace for a total of at least 824 flights over the three years 2010-12. The number could be higher because the data does not include flights that did not pass through Australian airspace.

Company spokesman Gary O'Neil confirmed the jets were used to ferry high-roller clients to its Australian casinos. "Crown's private aircraft are a critical part of our international and interstate VIP tourism business," he said.

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