Crown’s culture called into question at inquiry
Casino operator Crown Resorts has been accused of having a “culture of denial and arrogant indifference to compliance” as an inquiry into their suitability to hold a casino licence in NSW concludes.
Market Screener reports that in the third day of summation arguments, one of the lawyers running the inquiry said that Crown ignored warning signs and breached an obligation to deal with people “of good repute”.
The culture of denial and indifference permeated the organisation, lawyer Nicole Sharp said, adding that Crown’s founder and 36 per cent shareholder James Packer had “set a dubious tone from the top.”
She said Crown had kept a room in its Melbourne casino for clients of a junket operator even after law enforcement agencies wrote to the company warning of the operator’s suspected criminal past overseas.
The inquiry is widely expected to result in regulatory pain against Packer and Crown, which has two casinos and is banking its growth on a new 75-room complex in Sydney that opens in December.
Another lawyer running the inquiry raised the prospect that Crown’s casino licence could be suspended or even cancelled.
Crown has previously argued it has improved vetting of junket operators and in August said it had suspended all junket relationships until mid-2021.
Packer, testifying at the inquiry, has acknowledged a strong influence over the company and suggested a cap on his ownership as a condition for Crown to keep its licence.
The retired judge overseeing the hearings, Patricia Bergin, SC, on Friday called the suspension of junkets “cynical” since Australia’s borders are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bergin is due to give formal recommendations by February.
Australia’s financial crime agency has also begun investigating Crown on suspicion of failure to comply with anti money-laundering protocols, while the country’s corporate regulator has also said it might open its own probe.
A video purporting to show money laundering activities at Crown’s Melbourne casino that was publicly released last year was replayed at the inquiry.
Another lawyer running the inquiry, Scott Aspinall, said the footage could not give the regulator overseeing the Sydney casino “any confidence that Crown Resorts has the ability to operate suitably with sufficient resistance to exploitation from money laundering.”
A Crown spokesperson declined to comment, citing respect for the inquiry.
When the footage was first released, the company denied it showed money laundering.
The hearing resumed on Monday.
Crown Melbourne set to reopen after coronavirus forced its closure since March
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday that casino and electronic gaming venues in the state are allowed to open their doors again.
This means Crown Casino in Melbourne will be allowed to have 10 separate rooms open, with a maximum of 10 people per room.
There has been no patron cap determined for Crown, but the four-square-metre rule in place across the state is set to apply.
Crown Casino Perth reopened in full on June 27.
Calvin Ayre reported in June that with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Western Australia, and while Victoria was in the grips of a second wave of COVID cases and Crown’s Melbourne casino remaining closed, it is welcome news for the casino group.
A Crown spokeswoman confirmed the Perth property was ready to receive players last weekend, under new health and safety measures.
“Crown has worked closely with government and health authorities to ensure that our reopening was done in a safe manner for the community, and in compliance with all government mandates including physical distancing requirements and hygiene measures,” she said.
“The past few months have been challenging for many Western Australians, and we look forward to welcoming thousands of our employees back to work in coming weeks,” she added.
Casino operations are able to resume on the gaming floor, with health guidelines in place for food and beverage services.
Under the agreed guidelines with the Western Australian government, there will be a two-square metre rule for social distancing on the gaming floor.
Crown Resorts’ share price closed 2.68 per cent higher on Friday, at A$8.81.