Crown could be given 18 months to hand over Melbourne casino licence

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Switkowski steps down from RMIT to focus on new Crown role

Crown Resorts could be given up to 18 months to mend its beleaguered casino in Melbourne or give the state government time to appoint a new licensee.

The Australian Financial Review reports that the deferred cancellation of Crown’s licence would minimise the “extensive disruption” of immediately cancelling the licence on third parties not involved in the casino giant’s misconduct, such as some of its 12,000 Victorian staff.

Crown Melbourne could reapply for the licence if it can prove it is suitable, they said in their written closing submissions to the inquiry, but warned that it would not reach that point for up to five years.

If the gaming regulatory does not cancel the licence, the counsels assisting said it should at least appoint a monitor to oversee the company’s cultural reform and which would have powers to interrogate staff and demand documents akin to those of a royal commission.

They also reiterated past comments that the conduct of Crown chairman Helen Coonan and chief executive Xavier Walsh at the casino giant revealed “issues of character and integrity”, ruling them out from being part of its reformation.

The written submissions expand on the fiery oral submissions made by counsel assisting the royal commission, Adrian Finanzio, SC, and will be considered by the ultimate recommendation of commissioner Ray Finkelstein, QC.

Mr Finanzio recommended Crown be stripped of its licence in light of “grave, systemic breaches of law” uncovered by the royal commission, including alleged tax underpayments of $480 million, flagrant breaches of responsible gambling laws, enabling possible money laundering and misleading regulators.

Impact of casino licence cancellation explored

The 376-page written submission warned against immediate cancellation, saying it would “likely have inestimable negative consequences for many people, at least in the short term”, including some who “had no involvement whatsoever in the misconduct”.

But it said that if a new casino owner instead picked up the licence, “disruption may itself be in the public interest in the long run”.

“Any cancellation of the casino licence would need to provide adequate time for adjustment, including but not limited to, the conduct of an application process for a new licensee,” it said.

“If the decision is taken that it is no longer appropriate for Crown Melbourne to hold the casino licence in Victoria, some level of disruption will be inevitable, but if the end result is the grant of a new licence to a person suitable, then that disruption may itself be in the public interest in the long run,” the submission said.

Crown could reapply for Melbourne casino licence if it’s cancelled

Crown Melbourne itself could reapply for the licence under this process, the submission said, if it could “demonstrate that it is suitable, rather than on the course to suitability”.

“Cancellation of the casino licence…with the opportunity to reapply, would provide real incentive to implement its reform program,” it said.

But a new look Crown Melbourne may not be able to be associated with Crown Resorts, after the counsels assisting also found the latter, as did the NSW Bergin inquiry, to be an unsuitable associate of a casino licence.

The prospect of hiving off Crown Melbourne from the parent company was raised several times by Mr Finkelstein during the inquiry’s hearings as Crown’s agreements with Victoria mandate the Melbourne casino should be Victorian-run with the state’s economic and social interests its foremost concern.

This raises the possibility of Crown Resorts breaking up if the James Packer-backed group’s new Sydney casino takes business away from Melbourne.

“It is open to the Commission to find that Crown Resort’s project for the development of the Sydney casino is detrimental to Crown Melbourne’s interests,” the submission said.

Counsel assisting also submitted Crown breached the other two major laws governing the casino giant, plus federal anti-money laudering and counter terrorism finance laws.

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