Perth Casino royal commission prepares to resume

by William Brown Last Updated
Problem gambling controls at Perth casino called into question

The Western Australian gambling regulator could call on the state’s gaming minister to cancel Perth Casino’s licence before a royal commission into the Crown-operated venue hands down its findings.

The ABC reports that Gaming and Wagering Commission lawyer Paul Evans said the regulator would be closely watching the royal commission as it resumes to investigate whether Crown is suitable to hold a casino licence in WA.

It would be considering issues such as whether Crown had underpaid casino tax to the WA government and whether it had been honest in its communications with the GWC, especially after media reports of money laundering.

He said WA’s laws authorised the Minister to act on the advice of the GWC.

“The GWC will not necessarily await these conclusions if matters disclosed give rise to a need to take action immediately,” he said.

The second part of the Perth Casino Royal Commission commenced on July 26, with opening statements heard, ahead of witness hearings on July 28.

Counsel assisting Patricia Cahill outlined areas of interest for the inquiry in the coming months, including: Crown Perth’s response to the arrest of staff in China in 2016, the corporate culture and operation of Crown companies and the suitability of changes made as a result of the Bergin inquiry, whether Crown had influenced policies around electronic gaming machines and the loosening of junket regulations, money laundering and criminal infiltration and the management of problem gambling.

Former and current directors set to give evidence at upcoming Perth casino hearings

Ms Cahill said the royal commission would also look at the Crown group of companies and its associates.

These companies include Burswood Nominees, the holder of the casino licence, Burswood Ltd and Burswood Resort Management, which manages the casino and employs staff.

They are all owned by the ASX-listed Crown Resorts.

“In terms of governance, this commission intends to examine, among other things, the experience, competence and integrity of past directors of each of the entities subject to the inquiry,” she said.

Former and current directors who will be called to give evidence include Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan, Crown Perth board member Maryna Fewster, Crown Perth chief operating officer Lonnie Bossi, Crown Resorts chief financial officer Alan McGregor and former Crown chief legal officer Joshua Preston.

Commission chair Justice Neville Owen also declared his personal interests to three witnesses, including a close relationship with Seven West media chair Kerry Stokes, but said he did not believe it was a conflict of interest.

Ms Fewster, Seven West’s chief executive, is due to give evidence on Thursday.

Prominent businessman John Poynton slated to give evidence

She will follow Perth businessman John Poynton, who was appointed to the Burswood Ltd board in 2004, as a representative of James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings.

He resigned from that position and from the Crown Resorts board after the Bergin report was handed down in early 2021.

But his lawyer Perth Ward told the royal commission that this resignation should not be an indication “that he had cause to resign”.

“Mr Poynton was placed under significant pressure by both the chair of Crown Resorts and the New South Wales regulator, both privately and in media statements and he ultimately resigned from both boards at the start of this year,” he said.

He said a media report Mr Poynton was trying to form a syndicate to buy out Crown Perth casino was wrong.

Crown’s lawyer Kanaga Dharmanada said the company had undertaken significant work to address the “deficiencies” identified by the Bergin inquiry and Victorian royal commission into Crown, such as how it handled money laundering.

He said Crown was not adopting “a posture of defiance” and had made many changes, including to its board.

Held earlier this year, the first part of the royal commission looked at how the casino was regulated in WA and was promoted by the Bergin inquiry in NSW< which found Crown was unsuitable to hold a casino licence.

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