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Check for Lawrence Ho required says former regulator

Tue, Jun 4, 8:37am by Staff Writer

The former regulator who rubber-stamped a Sydney casino licence for Crown Resorts says a fresh probity check of new shareholder Lawrence Ho is warranted.

The Australian Financial Review  is reporting that human rights lawyer Chris Sidoti, who was appointed the chair of the New South Wales Casino, Liquor and Gaming Authority in 2008, oversaw a 2014 agreement with Crown that specifically prevented the gambling company from any association with Lawrence’s father, Asian casino tycoon Stanley Ho.

Stanley Ho has previously been linked to Asian organised crime, but has strenuously denied such suggestions and has never been convicted of any offences.

The 2014 VIP Gaming Agreement approved by the subsequently renamed Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority stated that Crown must prevent “any new business activities or transactions of a material nature between Stanley Huang Sun Ho or a Stanley Ho associate and Crown, any of Crown’s officers, directors or employees or any Crown subsidiary.”

The agreement’s definition of an associate extends to “any additional entities or identified individuals who, from time to time, the authority may notify Crown are to be considered associated of Stanley Huang Sun Ho.”

Mr Sidoti told the AFR that while no links between Mr Ho’s company Melco Resorts and Stanley Ho could be found at the time, the provisions provided an extra measure of caution for the state government, as the Ho family declined to provide information about the role of Stanley Ho in the family’s wider business interests.

“We had no evidence at the time there was a commercial association between Lawrence and Stanley Ho.”

“We just wanted to make sure the arrangements as we understood them were going to persist,” Mr Sidoti said of the reason for the provision.

In 2014, Crown’s position as a major Melco shareholder dragged the Ho family into the NSW regulatory probe.

Crown completed its exist from the Melco register in 2017.

Mr Sidoti said it was right that Melco’s purchase of a 1999 per cent stake in Crown from James Packer on Thursday night should trigger a new review of Crown’s arrangements in New South Wales.

“This does represent a material change in the circumstances of Crown and any material change needs to be reviewed.”

Mr Ho and Melco must also clear probity checks in Victoria and Western Australia, where Crown operates its casinos, before the $8 billion company can make room for a Melco representative on its board.

Mr Ho said his businesses’ interest have been separate from those of his father for more than a decade.

Melco keen on Japan

But he hopes to turn what he expects will be a 12-month regulatory process into an advantage for Melco, and argued it could help him realize his ambitions to build a $14 billion casino in Japan.

Melco is one of several casino giants lobbying heavily to win the right to build one of three casino resorts in Japan, with the process of picking winners likely to begin in earnest after mid-year elections in Japan.

Mr Ho has promised to spend $14 billion on a casino and resort of Melco’s bid is successful.

“Japan is really the final frontier in terms of global gaming and global entertainment businesses,” he told Bloomberg TV over the weekend.

“They [Australia] are known to have world class regulators and the strictest compliance. So from that standpoint, I think that will be great for our Japanese bid as well.”

Mr Ho also argued his Japanese ambitions could receive a boost from an unlikely source – the revitalization of the rundown industrial land on which Crown Resorts’ Melbourne casino was created.

He argued that Crown’s success in developing its Melbourne casino and its Sydney hotel could help show how a casino can turn unloved areas of a city around.

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