Crown revelations stun royal commission 

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Incoming Crown CEO lays down plan for the future

The Victorian royal commission into Crown Resorts heard from executive chairman Helen Coonan on July 9.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Ms Coonan’s appearance in the witness box was supposed to reassure the commission that “old Crown” was dead and the company had undergone a great reformation.

Instead, Crown dropped another bombshell, crudely trying to lean on the Victorian government, warning of “catastrophic consequences” if Commissioner Ray Finkelstein so much as altered the casino giant’s licence conditions, let alone if it found it unfit to run the Southank operation.

The nature of those catastrophic consequences was soon revealed.

Any change to Crown’s licence could trigger a default under its $540 million loan facility and put the jobs of 12,000 local workers at risk.

In other words, the billions of dollars of taxes Crown’s Southbank casino pours into Victoria’s Treasury, which have bought it decades of lax regulation, might be at risk.

Tony Robinson, gaming minister in John Brumby’s Victorian Labor government from 2007 to 2010 was unimpressed.

“I just can’t for the life of me think what on earth was the upside in that letter? I mean not only would it do what it’s done, tick off the commissioner, it’s more or less a demand of the government,” Robinson said.

“The part that rang true was ‘catastrophic consequences’, but they would be for Crown,” he said.

Robinson said the state government could consider other operators to run the casino.

Neither the casino licence nor the Southbank building will disappear because the state is committed to keeping the gambling site in business.

“The only question now, as it has been for four months and will be into the future, is who will be running it.

“And so the licence can be transferred to someone else. That would, in certain circumstances, have catastrophic implications for Crown, not for the government,” he said.

Lax regulation, poor corporate governance and anti-gambling harm failings at Crown

The revelation of Crown going behind Commissioner Finkelstein’s back builds on a final week of public hearings that seemed to get worse for Crown by the day.

The inquiry heard Crown still wasn’t “candid” with the Victorian government about a potential $270 million tax rort, despite facing the heat of the royal commission, and had possibly misled the market over former CEO Ken Barton’s $1.5 million exit package.

This followed seven weeks of hearings that revealed an inexplicable failure to investigate the arrest of Crown employees in China, and further money laundering concerns arising from Crown’s chronic flouting of laws to churn at least $160 million through an illegal credit card facility for patrons to access cash and chips at the casino.

This episode prompted Finkelstein to openly wonder if the casino giant could be reformed, expressing horror at seeing criminality and rule breaking wherever a light is shone at the Southbank complex.

Of all the damning evidence presented to the probe during the past two months, the commission’s unexpected focus on Crown’s breaches of responsible gambling laws as recently as April, with some gamblers left to play on for 96 hours, were perhaps the most damaging.

“Old” Crown is alive and well when it thinks no one is watching.

Unsurprisingly, the commissioner is far from convinced that Crown has reformed, or can reform itself.

Shares in Crown, which is mulling a merger offer from rival casino group The Star, slid 1.88 per cent to $10.99 and have plummeted 16.43 per cent since the Victorian royal commission hearings started on May 17.

On the second last-day of hearings, Coonan sought to distance herself from “old” Crown, saying she had tried to do the right thing on many occasions during her 12 years on the board but was thwarted by Packer’s hand-picked directors.

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