Crown Perth bosses attempt to distance themselves from Melbourne outfit

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Perth Casino royal commission draws to a close

Executives at Crown Perth are doing their best to distance themselves from their parent company in a bid to retain their casino licence.

The Australian Financial Review reports that during a hearing of the Western Australian royal commission into Crown, the operator’s former chief legal officer, Joshua Preston, said he believed “Perth was very much alone in the Crown group”, citing its board’s independence from the James Packer-backed outfit.

Mr Preston later admitted that the two casinos shared a register of money laundering risks, just a week after counsels assisting a Victorian royal commission into Crown recommended it lose its Melbourne casino licence partly because of its anti-money laundering practices.

The recommendation followed a NSW inquiry into Crown finding it was unsuitable to hold a licence in Sydney in February due to a host of scandals and misconduct stemming from Crown Melbourne.

The WA commission is also considering whether Crown is fit to retain a casino licence in Perth.

Burswood Limited board kept Crown Perth “independent”

Mr Preston said that the Perth casino was distanced from Crown’s culture and practices because of their independent Burswood Limited board, which is the Crown intermediary company ostensibly charged with running the Perth casino under WA law.

“Perth was very much alone in the Crown group in comparison to Crown Melbourne because that was the central hub where Crown Resorts had come from, so my observations were that Crown Perth was always different,” he said.

“It didn’t have the same relationship with Crown Resorts because the independent directors on the board weren’t Crown Resorts directors, whereas in Melbourne they all were during my time.”

A five-person board oversees Burswood Limited nominally, but the commission heard that it did not meet for five months in early 2021, despite Crown Resorts having 18 meetings in that time and that some meetings lasted less than 30 minutes.

Appearing before the commission, Seven West Media CEO and Burswood Limited director Maryna Fewster said the board was not fit for purpose and lacked independence from Crown Resorts.

Short Burswood board meetings under scrutiny

Mr Preston acknowledged issues with the duration of the Burswood board meetings, but said it still “to me had a level of independence”.

He said the primary difference between the Perth and Melbourne entities was the board’s composition, even though “the actual nature of the discussions that took place were not too dissimilar”.

These included “discussions pertaining to finance, the CEO’s report, the structure and agenda items”.

Mr Preston also admitted that the two casinos now kept the same register, which is one of several obligations imposed on casinos by the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act, for reporting anti-money laundering risks, despite historically keeping them separate.

“Is that because the operations of each location were sufficiently similar for the programs to be regarded as the same?” Counsel assisting the Commission, Michael Feutrill, SC, asked.

Mr Preston responded: “Sufficiently similar in the context of the issues that we believed Melbourne would confront would be the same kind of risk issues as Perth would confront.

“There were some nuances between the original risk assessments between Perth and Melbourne but our view was that when we looked at them holistically, we could compress them and enhance them and that would suffice for the task.”

The Victorian royal commission heard in July that money laundering may have occurred at Crown’s Melbourne casino as recently as May, while the latest risky transaction recorded at Perth was in June.

Crown made a statement to the market on August 2, saying it has legal advice from two senior counsel stating it does not owe up to $480 million in tax, as claimed by the counsel assisting the royal commission.

The casino giant said it will await the casino regulator’s final decision on the matter after the royal commission delivers its report in October.

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