Crown Sydney’s hopes of opening in December called into question 

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
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Crown’s hopes of opening its new Barangaroo casino in December might not go according to plan if the commissioner leading the NSW inquiry into the casino operator has her way.

The Brisbane Times reports that Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin has challenged the “good sense” of opening Crown’s Sydney casino in December, as a senior Crown director claimed she had been pressured to sign-off on a statement refuting media reports of its alleged links to organised crime.

Ms Bergin’s findings are due to be published in a report on February 1, but the ASX-listed casino operator said it will open its new $2.2 billion casino on December 14.

Commissioner Bergin asked Crown director Jane Halton, a former top federal bureaucrat and current National COVID-19 Commission advisory board member, whether Crown had considered “that it may be perhaps inappropriate to open a casino which is the subject of a suitability inquiry?”

“I’m very aware that your report is due in February,” said Ms Halton, who is up for re-election at Crown’s annual general meeting next week.

“In terms of that delaying the opening, no, that’s not something I’m aware of having been discussed.”

“I’m not talking about the opening of the building and the restaurants and all the other wonderful aspects,” Ms Bergin said.

“Has any thought been given to the propriety or good sense, whichever you wish, in proceeding to open a casino at a time when there is an inquiry into the suitability of the licensee?”

“Not that I am aware of commissioner, no,” Ms Halton said.

It is the first time the inquiry has raised the prospect of Crown delaying, by choice or force, the opening of its new casino.

Because of COVID-19, Crown already faced the difficulty of being cut off from international high rollers, which were expected to provide around a third of its profits.

Newspaper ad called into question yet again

The NSW inquiry, which has the same powers as a royal commission, also heard Ms Halton claim Crown’s former executive chairman, John Alexander, “pressured” her into signing an error-ridden newspaper ad attacking news reports, which triggered the inquiry, as being part of a “deceitful campaign.”

Ms Halton, who has been a director on Crown’s board since 2018 and chairs its risk management and compliance committees, was asked on Thursday about Crown’s ASX statement and full-page newspaper ads that were signed by all directors.

The inquiry has exposed that Crown’s statement is full of factual errors.

“Did you feel at all pressured to sign onto this full-page, ASX media release?” counsel assisting Naomi Sharp, SC, asked?”

“Yes, Ms Sharp,” Ms Halton said.

“Who do you feel applied that pressure to you?” Ms Sharp continued.

“There was pressure from the executive chairman, and some others.”

Ms Halton said that she was the last director to sign the statement and that at the time, she had already developed concerns about how Crown ignored signs its staff were at risk in China, which the report detailed.

Counsel assisting Adam Bell, SC, said that given those concerns were not reflected in Crown’s statement she signed, it was “neither completely truthful or completely accurate.”

“I actually think that is a step too far,” Ms Halton said, noting the statement said Crown was “always striving” for the highest levels of governance and standards.

The ad also attacked the credibility of Jenny Jiang, one of the Crown employees jailed in China and who appeared in the media expose.

Commissioner Bergin asked whether it was “a little rich” to “expect objectivity from a young woman who has been jailed?”

Ms Halton agreed, but said she pushed back against fellow director Guy Jalland’s suggestion to use “completely inflammatory” and “inappropriate” language attacking Ms Jiang in a draft release.

She said, with hindsight, she would not sign the statement again.

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