Counsel finds Crown Resorts unfit to hold Melbourne casino licence
Crown Resorts isn’t fit to hold a casino licence in Victoria, according to the Victorian probe into the embattled casino operator.
News.com.au reports that the Victorian royal commission found Crown Resorts isn’t fit to hold a casino licence after leaving itself “wide open to exploitation by money launderers in the past” and only made reforms “on the fly” when pressured by the damning NSW inquiry.
The Victorian royal commission was promoted by the findings of the NSW investigation, which uncovered evidence Crown had turned a blind eye to various forms of money laundering by high-roller Asian “junket” tours at its Perth and Melbourne venues.
Scathing closing submissions by counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio were delivered to Crown.
Mr Finanzio noted Crown had only provided the NSW investigation with reports from independent audits two days before its conclusion, conceding at the last minute there was evidence of likely money laundering and drawing the ire of Commissioner Patricia Bergin.
And even then, it limited the audits to its Riverbank (Perth) and Southbank (Melbourne) bank accounts, he said.
They were “curbed by the limited instructions” from Crown, which had grounds to suspect money laundering went beyond those bank accounts, Mr Finanzio said.
That Crown did not conduct a wholesale review, despite being encouraged by advisers and financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC, was telling.
“Crown was trying to hide or minimise the true extent of the problem,” Mr Finanzio said.
“Crown did not prioritise any investigation into the allegations…at any time and really only acted when it became untenable in the context of the Bergin inquiry.”
Crown’s failings detailed by royal commission into casino licence
He also took aim at Crown’s fractious relationship with the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, saying it misled the regulator, withholding documents that should have been produced earlier.
Other chief failings included breaching its responsible gambling laws that allowed problem punters to keep playing for more than 12 hours at a time, which had a significant impact on the community including financial hardship, forced prostitution and “in some cases even suicide”.
“They together underscore, along with the legislative requirement to actually do this properly, the importance of the issue,” Mr Finanzio said.
Coonan and Walsh in the firing line
He questioned the company’s commitment to change, saying it had made reforms “on the fly”, was currently in a “sorry state of preparedness” to deal with money laundering risks “and it will take some time to rectify that situation”.
“Crown has failed woefully to adequately address key risks of money laundering,” he said.
“At present, that is right now, Crown is not at a level to combat money laundering at a level which is to be expected of the operator of a casino as sophisticated as Crown.
“It is according to its own evidence, only at an early stage of maturity.”
Crown’s ambitious reform program, even on the most favourable estimates, won’t be completed before the end of 2022, he said.
“There are considerable risks that the work will take much longer,” Mr Finanzio said.
‘Crown has lost public confidence’ – counsel assisting
He also lashed Crown’s chair, Helen Coonan, who survived a massive board purge in the wake of the NSW inquiry findings, saying she showed “a stunning lack of curiosity” when money laundering concerns emerged in May 2019.
While she should be commended for staying the course and leading the reform program, her inaction in the past clearly contributed to Crown’s problems and it was open to the commission to find her “not a suitable associate” of the company, Mr Finanzio said.
He said the same finding could be made for Crown Melbourne’s chief executive Xavier Walsh, who “did not distinguish himself at the time or since as a person able to recognise or willing to address or escalate issues of importance of lead change”.
“He has not risen to the occasion,” Mr Finanzio said.
Crown has lost public confidence and it was open to the commission to strip the company of its Victorian casino licence, he said.
Crown said in a statement to the ASX that it was preparing its closing submissions, which will be delivered on August 3.
Findings are expected by October 15.
The second phase of the separate Perth royal commission begins in late July.