Crown royal commission to get underway in Victoria 

By Noah Taylor Updated
Crown reforms to take years to fix, Perth commission heard

The Victorian royal commission into Crown Resorts will commence on March 24, marking the second investigation into the casino giant in as many years.

The Australian Financial Review reports that commissioner Ray Finkelstein has tapped Melbourne silks Adrian Finanzio and Penny Nezkovcin to be his counsel assisting.

His former associate, Geoffrey Kozminsky, who came to the bar in 2015 after working at corporate law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler is also part of the legal team.

Law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth will advise the team.

This commission will spend five months assessing Crown’s suitability to hold its lucrative casino licence at its flagship Southbank premises, the centre of much of the criminal activity revealed in the NSW inquiry, which found Crown unfit to hold a licence at the Barangaroo tower in Sydney.

While the Victorian government chose to exclude the state’s embattled gambling regulator from explicit scrutiny by the royal commission, a gambling expert said commissioner Finkelstein might interpret the inquiry’s terms of reference broadly enough to bring it under the microscope.

The NSW inquiry exposed the Victorian regulator, along with its federal counterpart, the financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC, for failing to prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars of dirty money from flowing through the casino at Southbank.

“My perspective would be that it’s impossible to properly investigate the propriety of Crown without looking at its interactions with the regulator and therefore, what the regulator has or hasn’t done,” gambling regulation expert and academic Charles Livingstone said.

“It’s up to the royal commission to determine what’s relevant to the terms of reference and what’s not relevant.

“Sometimes royal commissioners are happy to include material which may not necessarily have been explicitly referred to in the terms of reference and determine they have investigated it.”

Submissions from the public and organisations on the investigation’s terms of reference will be accepted by the commission “shortly”, according to the website.

No set timetable for submissions or hearings has been made publicly available.

The royal commission was sparked by the 17-month NSW investigation that revealed the gambling giant had turned a blind eye to infiltration of the casino’s junket program by Asian triad gangs and a blatant disregard for the welfare of its 19 China-based staff who were arrested for aggressively pushing illegal gambling junkets in China.

The commision is required to report on its findings and any recommendations to the governor no later than August 1, 2021, or a later date agreed between the commission and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Crown also faces another royal commission in Western Australia, which includes deep scrutiny of the regulator for failing to prevent money laundering. 

Dates for that inquiry have not yet been released.

WA gaming commission recommends inquiry into Crown Perth operations 

An investigation into Crown Resorts’ Sydney operations has prompted the West Australian gaming regulator to recommend its government does the same.

The ABC reported in February that the state’s regulator has recommended the government establish an independent inquiry into Crown’s Perth casino licence.

The recommendation was made after an urgent meeting of the Gaming and Wagering Commission that was also attended by WA Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch.

It already has the backing of the Gaming Minister.

It comes after last week’s scathing report into the gambling giant, which detailed years of money laundering through Crown Perth and led to the state’s chief casino officer being stood aside over social relationships with staff from Crown Perth’s legal and compliance team.

The meeting on Tuesday evening considered advice from the State Solicitor’s Office as to the findings of the Bergin inquiry in New South Wales.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the GWC said it would seek to launch an independent investigation because it was not able to make findings in relation to Crown Perth on the basis of the NSW investigation.

“The GWC acknowledges the seriousness of the findings and has been working cooperatively with the Bergin Inquiry since it came to light,” it said.

The Commission said it also considered responses to the inquiry by Crown Resorts at the meeting.

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