It’s been another chaotic week for Crown Resorts, who have named a new chief executive, fielded a merger bid from rival Star Entertainment and are in the midst of two royal commissions in separate states.
WA Today reports that a bidding war is underway for Crown and its sprawling properties in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
That adds to an already massive workload for current board chair and acting CEO Helen Coonan, who tries to rebuild Crown’s management, board and reputation after last year’s Bergin Inquiry in New South Wales eviscerated all three.
Crown is still working towards opening the casino at its new Sydney tower after its licence was suspended when former supreme court judge Patricia Bergin confirmed, among other things, reported that Crown had facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos.
The Victorian government slapped it with a $1 million fine last month for failing to check its high roller “junket” tour partners for criminal links and that could pale in comparison to a potential penalty from financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC’s investigation into money laundering breaches.
Now Crown is preparing to be grilled again, simultaneously, at two royal commissions that will ceide if it is fit to keep its Melbourne and Perth casino licences.
NSW gambling boss gives update on Crown Sydney opening
West Australia’s commission has just commenced hearings, while Victoria’s commences on Monday.
There are questions about how many balls Coonan, who ended up running Crown as the last person standing after Bergin cut a swathe through the group, can keep in the air at once.
At least the future of Crown Sydney has become clearer when NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chairman Philip Crawford said he was “confident” he would give Crown the all-clear to finally open the gaming rooms at the new $2.2 billion Barangaroo tower by the end of October.
It was supposed to open in December 2020.
Crawford, who was obliged by the sweetheart deal Crown signed with the NSW government in 2014 to work with Crown to try to restore its licence rather than just take it away, said he was “amazed” by what Coonan had achieved in the past four months by installing new people, systems and a new culture in the company.
I didn’t know in February, whether they would get the licence back…the old management, I reckon, wanted to fight,” he said.
But even as the regulatory storm in NSW is easing, royal commission clouds are gathering in Victoria and WA.
In Victoria, respected former judge Ray Finkelstein was given a tight timeframe of needing to report back by August 1 and was instructed to avoid “unnecessarily duplicating” Bergin’s work.
But Finkelstein is diving deeply into the same thorny issues of money laundering and criminal infiltration that prompted NSW to suspend Crown’s licence.
Requests from the two royal commissions for thousands of documents have sent Crown’s law firm Allens and a raft of advisers into overdrive, with one person familiar with the work saying it is a “logistical nightmare”.
“It’s putting everyone under a massive amount of pressure,” the legal source said.
“The financial services royal commission wasn’t just about one bank.”
There is a risk the royal commission will uncover evidence of wrongdoing that Bergin did not find in her probe.
Finkelstein has said the “most important” area of his inquiry is one Bergin didn’t touch at all: how Crown deals address gambling addiction, something critics have long said Crown has failed to do properly.
“They’re the biggest gambling harm production factory in the country,” gambling academic Charles Livingstone said.
“On a systematic basis, people are being encouraged to gamble way beyond their means at levels which are quite unimaginable to ordinary people, and Crown is being rewarded to do it.”
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