SYDNEY (Reuters) - Crown Resorts Ltd, Australia's biggest casino company, on Monday said 18 of its employees including its head of VIP gambling have been detained by Chinese authorities, as its shares dived 11 percent on fears for its Asia strategy.
Sydney-listed Crown said it was working with the Australian foreign ministry to make contact with its employees, but it had not been able to speak them and had no explanation for their detention.
The Crown staff were held following police raids last week, Australian media reported on the weekend. Analysts linked the raids to a broader Chinese government crackdown on corruption which has hit Macau gaming revenues.
Crown shares fell 11 percent in early trading, reflecting concerns about the Melbourne-based company's ability to continue to attract wealthy Chinese gamblers to its casinos in Australia.
Shares in Australian No. 2 casino company Star Entertainment Group Ltd fell as much as 6 percent.
On top of casinos in the cities of Melbourne and Perth, Crown is planning a A$2 billion ($1.52 billion) casino resort on the Sydney waterfront, targeted largely at Chinese tourists.
"The inferred underlying meaning is that the crackdown on Chinese gambling is only likely to increase," said Evan Lucas, a strategist at IG Markets.
"It's getting harder and harder to see how you continue to do business in that space when regulatory increases are clearly the highest risk factor."
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it was aware of reports that a group of Crown employees, including three Australians, had been detained in China overnight from Oct. 13 to Oct. 14.
"Chinese authorities have three days in which to notify of the detention of Australians according to the terms of a bilateral consular treaty," DFAT said in an email.
Australian consular officials would try to offer assistance to the detained Australians.
($1 = 1.3187 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Sandra Maler and Stephen Coates)