Pete Hoang

Vietnamese gambler Pete Hoang is a high-roller, but police question the source of his funding. (Image: Ken Irwin, The Age)

The high-rolling Pete Tan Hoang has had an impressive string of victories in the last year. But that didn’t help him score a win where it mattered most: in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

A magistrate in the Melbourne court has refused to return Hoang’s passport, saying that he would not be allowed to visit Vietnam for a holiday or to see his foster parents. Magistrate Susie Cameron agreed that should Hoang be allowed to travel abroad, he might not come back for a committal hearing in June.

Prosecutor Andrew Buckland said that Hoang has no ties to Australia, despite being a citizen here. With no family ties and no owned property in the country, he could be a flight risk if he were allowed to travel to Vietnam, he said.

Source of Millions Questioned

Hoang is facing charges related to dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of a crime. That comes after he was arrested at the Crown Casino in 2012 while carrying nearly $1.5 million in cash. Prosecutors say that Hoang could face a sentence of up to three years if found guilty.

According to Buckland, Hoang has no way to account for the tremendous amounts of cash he carries and spends at casinos in Australia.

“Apart from the gambling referred to, he has no other legitimate sources of income,” Buckland said.

And according to Buckland, the numbers simply don’t add up. Over 12 years, Hoang has reportedly lost nearly $8 million at Crown – all without having any recorded income. The gambler has not lodged a tax return in 12 years, though he did receive more than $50,000 in government benefits – a youth training allowance – from 2001 to 2007. Buckland says that Hoang told police that his only previous jobs had been waiting tables and working as a Telstra salesman.

The prosecution’s case stands mainly on an analysis of Hoang’s finances – or lack thereof. According to that analysis, somewhere around $7.1 million of the money that Hoang gambled in Australian casinos is “unsourced.”

Defence Says Money Comes from Professional Gambling

But when it comes time for the committal, it appears that Hoang’s barrister David Grace will argue that the prosecution’s analysis is lacking.

“This man is a gambler and that’s what he does and that’s how he survives,” Grace said.

According to Grace, Hoang has won more than $2.5 million at SkyCity Adelaide in recent weeks. He was also said to have won more than $600,000 through two Tattslotto scores last year. In all, Hoang claims a gambling turnover of $90 million in the five years before he was arrested.

Given that kind of volume, Grace said, the prosecution’s analysis is deficient, as they cannot account for all of Hoang’s betting.

Grace also argued that Hoang would not be a flight risk, saying that he would be unlikely to remain in Vietnam – a country he had fled in the 1990s – just to avoid what ultimately could be less than a year in jail if he were found guilty. But the magistrate said that there was no compelling reason to allow Hoang to travel.

At the June committal, it will be determined whether it was reasonable for police to suspect that Hoang’s money was tied to criminal activity, as well as whether the prosecution’s financial analysis holds up to scrutiny.