Crown’s counsel pleads with royal commission for trust

By William Brown Updated
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Counsel for embattled casino operator Crown Resorts has asked royal commissioner Ray Finkelstein for trust in allowing it to keep a licence to run its Melbourne casino.

The Guardian reports that counsel for the company, Michael Borsky QC explained why the Melbourne casino should keep its licence to operate, in light of a recommendation by counsel assisting the commission, Adrian Finanzio’s recommendation to the government that the company lose its licence.

Borsky said Crown had admitted to and apologised for wrongdoing exposed at both this inquiry and an earlier one in New South Wales, which includes dodging tens of millions in state taxes and failing to prevent money laundering by customers, that made it unsuitable to hold a licence, but had committed itself to cleaning up its act.

But Finkelstein said options put forward by Borsky for a monitor to be appointed to oversee Crown’ running of the casino were “risk free” for the company.

“You’d pay unpaid taxes, pay a few costs, but you don’t actually suffer any consequence, that is you can commit wrong for a decade, of various kinds and come along and say, ‘Well, we’ve fixed it, so don’t worry about it’,” he said.

“If I was a car thief and went to the criminal court and said, ‘I’m not going to steal a car again, don’t worry about it, take my word for it,’ and they just let me go, it’s really not how the system works, is it?

“Not only is it not how the system works, it’s not what the public expects.”

Job losses at Crown overstated

Finkelstein said because Crown Melbourne was profitable he did not accept that the 12,500 jobs at the casino, the state’s biggest single site employer, would be at risk if the state government cancelled its licence.

“The choice might be between you running the casino or someone else running the casino,” he said.

“If it is a profitable business, the way industry works is that someone will always step in.”

Coonan and Walsh call it quits

Borsky also said Crown’s executive chair, Helen Coonan, would be quitting before the end of the month and no findings should be made against her or the Melbourne chief executive Xavier Walsh.

Walsh has served as Crown Melbourne chief executive officer for less than a year after he was appointed in December 2020. 

On the same day that Walsh’s departure was announced, the Victorian government said it plans to split the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, in a move that stops short of setting up a stand-alone regulator solely responsible for the troubled Melbourne casino.

The state’s gaming minister Melissa Horne said that a dedicated division dealing with Crown would “hold the casino to account”.

“That is the advice that we received,” she said.

“There are very few jurisdictions in the world that have dedicated casino regulators.”

The move would involve “undoing the failed experiment of the past” that put liquor and gaming regulation together in the same body and the new body would have a “focus on harm minimisation”.

In a statement, the VCGLR said it would “continue to deliver high quality regulation of the gaming and liquor industries without disruption to regulatory activity as the new regulator is established”.

Finkelstein is due to report the royal commission findings on October 15.

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