Aussie poker community protests Star Entertainment’s unexplained ban of prominent poker pros

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on: September 17, 2023 12:01 am EDT

The unexplained ban by Australia’s Star Entertainment Group’s of at least eight prominent poker players in recent months has resulted in a protest and petition seeking an explanation for the bans and possible reinstatement of the players.

The online petition, created by founder Craig Abernethy, is addressed to Star Entertainment Group’s Compliance and Investigations Team. The petition was timed to coincide with the arrival of the World Poker Tour (WPT) at The Star casino in Sydney for what is currently the largest poker festival serving the country.

The petition has more than 600 signees at last check, with nothing required to support the petition other than registering on the site to participate. The petition cites allegedly unfair practices by Star Entertainment, which has served at least the eight players named within the petition with a “Withdrawal of Licence under Common Law,” effectively barring them under Australian law from entering any Star Entertainment Group venue.

As a further insult, according to some of the players Abernethy’ petition names, Star has refused even to divulge why the players have been banned from the property. Letters to the banned players as quoted within Abernethy’s petition purportedly state, “The Star is not required to provide reasons or justifying the exclusions nor the information relied upon making the decision to exclude.”

Lynskey most prominent of banned players

The eight players named are seven Australians and one player from the UK. The seven Australian players who have been banned 2018 WSOP Main Event final-table participant Alex Lynskey, who currently ranks eighth on Australia’s all-time tournament earnings list, according to the Hendon Mob database.

Three other members of Australia’s all-time top 100 winners list have also been excluded — Jarred Graham, Hun Wei “Andy” Lee, and Najeem Ajez. The other three Star-banned Aussies are Chris “Dipper” Zenonos, Pratik Mehta, and David Hanlon. The UK player currently banned by Star is Rehman Kassam.

Casino’s money-laundering concerns may have triggered preemptive bans

One possibility is that the players could have engaged in some sort of activity that triggered Star’s sense of money-laundering. Star Entertainment Group absorbed a billion-dollar loss earlier this year, including a $350 million fine, for various money laundering, fraud and criminal-activity violations that threatened Star’s operating licenses.

In the wake of Star’s settlement with Australia’s gaming regulators, the casino group was required to install heightened anti-money laundering (AML) practices. Those conceivably could include something as relatively innocent within the poker world as one player backing another by giving that other player a large amount of cash that was observed on casino security footage.

Some of the issues involved with large-scale poker events and the behavior of high-stakes pros in tournaments and cash games contributed in a small way to the demise of the venerable Aussie Millions series at Melbourne’s Crown Casino. In July, Crown was fined $450 million for seven years’ worth of various AML violations. Restrictive operating terms previously agreed to by Crown rendered the Aussie Millions series incompatible with the new rules, and the series was shelved last year, perhaps permanently. Possible parallels between Crown Melbourne’s and Star Sydney’s recent histories have boded poorly for poker within the country.

Despite Australia’s ongoing crackdown against widespread operator violations, the unexplained bans still smack of heavy-handed treatment. Abernethy states as much in his petition, writing, “What we are asking is for the poker community, their friends, family and connections to stand up to this type of unjustified, cruel, arrogant and bullish and sense of guilt directed at poker players in Australia, by signing and sharing this petition to pass onto The Star Entertainment Group, World Poker Tour, the casino regulators and the State MPs and Attorney Generals in each state as well as various media outlets.

Feature image source: / Craig Abernethy