Casino regulator to be established in NSW

By William Brown Updated
NSW community pokies grants under investigation

A casino regulator will be established in New South Wales, in the wake of the damning Bergin inquiry into Crown Resorts’ proposed casino at Barangaroo.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, who earlier this year found the James Packer-backed group unfit to hold a casino licence at its Barangaroo site, urged NSW to set up an independent body to oversee casinos.

Her report called on NSW to establish the Independent Casino Commission, a “dedicated, stand-alone, specialist casino regulator with the necessary framework to meet the extant and emerging risks for gaming and casinos”.

NSW cabinet recently agreed to a new casino body, and will also set up a steering committee, made up of Liquor and Gaming, Treasury and the Attorney-General’s department, to consider allowing The Star casino to buy or lease poker machines from country pubs and clubs.

Under the proposed deal, The Star would have to forfeit one of its machines for every three it buys from a club or pub, reducing the number of poker machines in the state by 500.

However, The Star could also lease machines from clubs and pubs and would not be required to forfeit any machines but would need to negotiate to pay clubs and pubs an annual payment for an agreed number of years.

The potential deal would be an opt-in model, where venues could choose to sell or lease their machines to invest in community assets, such as childcare centres or health facilities.

As part of the deal, The Star would look at developing a new theatre and live performance venue in Sydney.

Minister for Digital and Customer Service Victor Dominello said it was vital the gaming industry moved to a cashless system to address problem gambling as well as combat dirty money being washed through machines.

Money laundering emerged as a major issue for the gambling industry after the Bergin inquiry found evidence dirty money had been washed through Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.

“Tackling money laundering and strengthening harm-minimisation measures will be key components of our negotiations with The Star and central to that is a commitment to going cashless,” Mr Dominello said.

NSW would also monitor the outcomes of inquiries in other states to ensure other jurisdictions had similar models in terms of casino oversight bodies, he said.

“We are keeping an eye on both the Victoria and WA Royal Commissions to ensure where possible we align our casino regulator settings.”

The Reverend Tim Costello, the chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said he found it an “odd decision” for the government to be focused on poker machines during a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

“NSW has 35 per cent of all the world’s pokies in pubs and clubs, so I support a reduction of 500 and the investment in community facilities,” Mr Costello said.

“If the buy back allows pubs and clubs to invest in community assets, such as health and recreation facilities, then that is good.”

Star’s calls fall on deaf ears

Star Entertainment decided to put in an insurance claim with Chubb Insurance Australia and other insurers on the basis that its financial losses due to COVID-19 should be covered by its business interruption policy, but the courts ruled against their claim.

Star, which runs casino resorts in Brisbane, Sydney and the Gold Coast, decided to go to the courts to see if they would force the insurance companies to pay up.

Star had a $1.75 billion policy for its casino in the Gold Coast, a $1.43 billion dollar policy for its casino in Brisbane and a $4 billion policy for its casino in Sydney.

Star wasn’t the only casino operator to file such a claim as there were also casino operators in America who were filing insurance claims asking for reimbursement based on the business interruption policy.

Chief Justice Allsop ruled against Star Entertainment and said that after going through the operator’s special risk policy there was nothing there to cover financial losses from a government shutdown.

The Chief Justice also instructed Star Entertainment to submit further claims within a 14 day period regarding the spoilage of goods.

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