DRUG-smuggling rackets involving tens of millions of dollars being passed across the tables at Crown casino have been smashed by police.
Operation Ripsaw in the past two years has seen the arrest of 30 alleged drug syndicate members in Australia and Vietnam, and almost 60 accused heroin couriers, Victoria Police's Det Supt Doug Fryer told the International Serious and Organised Crime Conference in Melbourne.
He revealed that during one sting, police used a covert warrant to enter a syndicate house in Melbourne late at night and seize $650,000 cash as well as heroin and ice - to spark a feud between the drug runners and get them talking.
"We got out of there and watched the fallout," he said.
One alleged syndicate head gambled $3.2 million in just 62 days at Crown, while another punted $12 million over five years at the casino, Det-Supt Fryer said.
Operation Ripsaw was set up after heroin deaths in Victoria in 2008 rose to 115, a third of the annual road toll.
Police focused efforts on 100 identified drug couriers operating between Ho Chi Minh City and Melbourne.
Det-Supt Fryer said the couriers were often Vietnamese-Australians with gambling debts who had been preyed upon by loan sharks at Australian casinos.
The drug syndicates, seven of them family-based, were run by traffickers who also did money lending.
Debt-ridden gamblers would be threatened then offered up to $24,000 to travel to Vietnam and catch flights back to Australia with compressed heroin "pellets" inserted in their bodies.
The pellets would contain up to 80 per cent pure heroin and one delivery of four pellets could bring a street value of up to $750,000.
Once the couriers began being arrested, other drug runners realised the heat was on in Melbourne so flew into Darwin or Perth before catching domestic flights to Melbourne, Det-Supt Fryer said.
In Vietnam, eight alleged Victorian drug runners have been arrested and face long jail terms and potential death sentences if convicted.
Det-Supt Fryer said despite Ripsaw's success, investigations into active syndicates were continuing.
Victoria Police crime units now had criminal proceeds teams "embedded" in investigations, to ensure forensic accounting could better pinpoint assets and proceeds of crime.
"The assets can be stripped as soon as the drug arrests are made," he said. But Australian police had encountered "issues" in seizing the syndicates' Vietnam-based assets.