Former WA casino chief set to front royal commission

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Former WA casino chief set to front royal commission

The former chief casino operator of Western Australia has hired his own legal representation ahead of the state’s royal commission into Crown Resorts.

WA Today reports that Michael Connolly, who stood down after revelations of his social relationship with Crown Resorts staff, is expected to appear before the royal commission at some stage.

Mr Connolly is the deputy director general of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and was the chief casino officer under WA’s casino control legislation.

He was stood down from the role last February after questions were asked about the nature of his relationships with members of Crown’s legal and compliance team.

The chief casino officer, a specific and powerful role enshrined in legislation, has responsibilities including granting or refusing licences and approving key casino staff members.

He was replaced in the role by Mark Beecroft, who is the department’s director of strategic regulation.

The commission granted Mr Connolly leave to appear in relation to its inquiries into the state’s regulatory framework for casinos.

He was represented by lawyer Nicholas Malone, a senior associate at Pragma Lawyers.

Chairing commissioner Neville Owen said Mr Connolly’s personal interests related primarily to one of the terms of reference – number 10 – “but he may be able to assist us in other ways that relate to the regulatory framework.”

Connolly’s relationship with Crown employees called into question

That particular term of reference concerns “the capability and effectiveness of the Gaming and Wagering Commission in discharging its regulatory functions and responsibilities, and the Department in supporting the Gaming and Wagering Commission, including in relation to identifying and addressing any actual or perceived conflicts of interest by officers involved in casino regulation.”

It was first reported in February that Mr Connolly maintained social contact over many years with Paul Hulme, Crown’s manager of gaming and regulatory compliance, and Claude Marais, Crown’s general manager of legal and compliance.

In response at the time, department director general Duncan Ord acknowledged the social contact, but denied the staff involved were part of Crown’s executive or senior level of management or “occupied a decision-making position”.

A Crown spokeswoman said the company had requested an independent external review, but believed all necessary disclosures had been made by the employees involved.

Premier Mark McGowan said at the time he was disappointed to learn of the “inappropriate” relationship.

WA’s system of casino regulation is under scrutiny following revelations of years of money laundering through Crown Perth, which were detailed in the NSW licence inquiry report handed down by retired Supreme Court justice Patricia Bergin in February.

In March, Attorney-General John Quigley announced WA would hold its own royal commission into the allegations, the first royal commission called in the state in 20 years.

It will examine two issues – the regulation of casinos in WA and whether Crown Resorts is a suitable licensee of the Perth casino.

Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan, non-executive directors Jane Halton, Antonia Korsanos and Nigel Morrison, as well as former Crown Resorts director John Horvath, were granted leave to appear before the commission on Tuesday, as were eight Crown subsidiaries in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, the WA Gaming and Wagering Commission and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

Substantive hearings are expected to commence in May.

The commissioners are due to provide an interim report focused on real money casino regulation by June 30 and a final report on all issues by November 14.

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