Crown Perth suitability report due soon

By William Brown Updated
Crown Perth suitability report due soon

A report about the suitability of Crown Perth to operate Western Australia’s only casino is set to land on the desk of Premier Mark McGowan and Governor Kim Beazley in a matter of days.

The ABC reports that it will ultimately be up to Mr McGowan and his government to decide the fate of the once-mighty casino company in the west.

The final report of the Perth Casino Royal Commission should not be lacking advice on the shortcomings of Crown Perth, its management and its regulator.

The Perth royal commission is the final of three inquiries held in each of the states where the company has a casino business, with NSW and Victoria finding Crown unfit to hold a casino licence.

Crown’s licence was suspended in Sydney, while Crown Melbourne is being run by a special administrator for two years while it tries to prove it is a suitable casino operator.

These are options for the three Perth commissioners Neville Owen, Lindy Jenkins and Colin Murphy to consider, as they now retire to finish their report.

Between them, they have sat through 59 days of hearings, with 70 witnesses, since April.

Crown has made considerable changes since NSW, VIC hearings

This week, in their last two hearings, they heard some suggestions of what they should keep in mind when formulating their recommendations from key players like Crown and its majority shareholder James Packer, who chaired the Crown Perth board for 12 years.

In arguing for the company to keep its licence, Crown’s lawyer Kanaga Dharmanada asked the commissioners to consider how much change Crown had made in fixing its problems and not judge it on past behaviour.

He outlined some of Crown’s remediation programs, including what he called “a world-leading” responsible gambling program and what “could well be the most sophisticated financial crime set-up in the casino industry”.

He said Crown Perth chief executive Lonnie Bossi and cage boss David Brown had left the company since the inquiry began.

“Crown has accepted its historic failures and embarked upon a comprehensive program of reform, made appropriate concessions and demonstrated insight,” he said.

The lawyer acting for Mr Packer’s private investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings, said the influence of CPH, crown’s major shareholder, on the company was now “extinct, not merely dormant”.

He told the royal commission that it should be cautious about relying too much on the findings of other inquiries into Crown.

Packer’s role in Crown “non existent” according to legal counsel

Both the NSW and Victorian inquiries were damning of the influence of Mr Packer, with the Victorian royal commission into Crown recommending that CPH reduce its shareholding in Crown Resorts Limited to less than four per cent by 2024.

While Mr Packer told the Perth royal commission in October he didn’t object to this, Mr Hutley urged the commissioners on Wednesday to not recommend a cap because it would restrict future shareholders.

In January, Crown told the ASX that its board was likely to accept a new takeover offer by US private equity giant Blackstone, subject to regulatory approval by casino regulators in NSW, Victoria and WA.

Senior counsel assisting the commission, Patricia Cahill, urged the commissioners to consider uncertainties about Crown’s future, like the takeover, when assessing its suitability to hold a casino licence.

“Such matters could include the absence of a present or pending appointment of a CEO of the Perth casino, the absence of a chief operating officer, the likelihood of the consequences of the implementation of the recommendations of the Victoria royal commission, as to the requirement for separate board and senior management for Melbourne casino, and similarly, the likelihood and consequences of the Blackstone group’s acquisition of the CRL shareholding,” she said.

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