Western Australia casino watchdog sped up gaming machines 

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
Australian gaming venue survey shows eagerness to spend on poker machines

Changes made to electronic gaming machines in Western Australia were implemented with money, not public interest in mind.

The ABC reports that the Western Australia casino watchdog confirmed that when it made changes to make its machines more like pokies, it did so because the casino’s finances were struggling.

Former Gaming and Wagering Commission chair Duncan Ord said that Crown Perth approached the watchdog in March 2019, asking it to speed up the machines.

“Crown made it very clear at the time that they were bleeding money and that there would be a consequence of staff being stood down,” he said.

Mr Ord said the casino wanted to increase the speed of play of the electronic gaming machines, a move which counsel assisting the royal commission Patricia Cahill SC said would make them more similar to poker machines and also ensure the company would “make more money”.

By law, the GWC is required to minimise the harm caused by gambling, however, Mr Ord told the royal commission it did not seek any expert advice on the social impacts of the changes.

Pokies banned since casino opened, but EGMs not much different

Poker machines have been banned in Western Australia since the casino opened in 1985 because of concerns about their addictive nature.

EGMs can only be played at Crown Perth but gambling experts say they are no longer very different from poker machines.

Mr Ord told the royal commission that there was already “a very fine line” between EGMs and poker machines when Crown applied to make EGMs faster.

He agreed that the 2019 changes made the line “even finer”.

The former director-general of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, Mr Ord was making his second appearance before the royal commission.

The West Australian government announced Mr Ord’s retirement soon after he first gave evidence in May.

Back then, Mr Ord told the royal commission a decision to stand aside former chief casino officer Michael Connolly because of his friendships with Crown Perth executives was made to ensure the integrity of the GWC.

The royal commission has been told that Mr Connolly went on regular fishing trips with Crown legal boss Joshua Preston and his colleagues Paul Hulme and Claude Marais.

Mr Connolly officially declared his friendship with Mr Marais to the GWC, but not with the other two men.

Ms Cahill asked Mr Ord whether it was appropriate that Mr Connolly would be in charge of the briefing paper presented to the GWC about the changes to EGMs, given his relationship to the men.

“I wouldn’t have thought it was appropriate if they were close friends and on the operations committee for this paper to be authored by Michael himself, in that circumstance,” Mr Ord said.

Mr Ord agreed Mr Connolly’s failure to declare his friendship with Mr Preston and Mr Hulme reflected poorly on him.

But he outlined his support for Mr Connolly to the royal commission.

“I believed and still believed that Mr Connolly was an honourable man and believed that he could firewall his professional obligations from his personal obligations,” he said.

“I saw plenty of evidence that he took his responsibilities as chief casino officer very seriously.”

Crown battles through another compromised financial year

The embattled casino group reported a $261.6 million loss for FY21, and even its theoretical profit before closure costs and significant items is negative at $84.2 million in the red.

Crown saw a 77.4 per cent decline in its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to $114.1 million, although that result would have been unlikely if it weren’t for a 50.4 per cent jump in earnings to $231.8 million at Crown Perth.

That operation received $24.7 million in JobKeeper subsidies compared to the $54.9 million received by Crown Melbourne.

It was a tale of two cities as Crown Melbourne reported an EBITDA loss of $100.6 million, compared to a profit of $381.8 million in FY20.

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