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China frees Crown Resorts workers, including 2 Australians

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BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday released 10 employees of Australia's Crown Resorts Ltd., including two Australian citizens, after they completed nine months in prison for organizing gambling tours in violation of China's strict gaming laws.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that two Australians were freed after time served in detention prior to their trials was counted toward their sentences. They have been identified earlier as Jane Pan and Jerry Xuan.

A third Australian, Jason O'Connor, who heads the company's international VIP programs, is expected to be released next month after 10 months in prison. O'Connor was sentenced in a group trial last month with Pan, Xuan and 16 others.

Of the 19 defendants, 11 were jailed for nine months and another five for 10 months. The remaining three, who mainly did office work, were exempted from punishment although they were convicted of the same gambling charge.

Casino gambling and gambling promotions are illegal in mainland China, although the gaming industry forms the economic backbone of the former Portuguese colony of Macau that reverted to Chinese rule in 1999.

Chinese law mandates sentences of up to three years in prison for anyone who "for the purpose of profit, gathers people to engage in gambling, runs a gambling house or makes gambling his profession."

However, foreign casinos have skirted the ban by packaging gambling excursions as destination vacations to Australia and elsewhere. Those have become particularly attractive under Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing corruption crackdown that has deterred many gamblers from traveling to Macau due to fears of being surveilled by the authorities.

The raid on Crown Resorts employees last October was seen as a sign of Beijing's intensifying crackdown on social ills such as gambling, illegal drug use and prostitution.

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