Crown’s responsible gaming general manager grilled at royal commission

By Mia Chapman Updated
Crown CEO Steve McCann exits the business

Fresh doubts have been cast over Crown Resorts’ problem gambling code, which was breached as recently as last April, the Victorian royal commission into the casino operator has heard.

The Australian Financial Review reports that the royal commission was told that a VIP gambler played at the casino for more than 34 hours in 2019 before staff forced them to take a break.

This is just one example presented to the commission that lays bare Crown’s failure to follow its responsible gambling program, which is a key condition of running its Melbourne casino and a central issue in the probe into Crown’s suitability to hold Victoria’s sole casino licence.

The inquiry, led by former federal court judge Ray Finkelstein, also heard cash could still be withdrawn at the four bars in the sprawling Melbourne Southbank complex, despite a ban on ATMs within the venue and 50 metres from the front door.

Commission Finkelstein queried the legality of this arrangement.

Crown makes recent changes to responsible gambling program

This evidence comes a day after Crown’s 11th-hour plans to implement a “suite of changes” to its responsible gambling program were revealed on Tuesday, which counsel assisting the commission Adrian Finanzio, SC, alleged amounted to an admission of wrongdoing.

The changes, which were communicated to the royal commission by Crown’s lawyers on Thursday night last week, include tightening time limits for games, abandoning its Bingo program and increasing the number of staff monitoring gambling harm.

Giving evidence at the royal commission, the casino giant’s group general manager of responsible gaming, Sonja Bauer, conceded that as recently as April, Crown had failed to adhere to its problem gambling code of conduct, which requires staff to check on patrons if they’re gambling for 12 hours or more.

Citing Crown’s register from April, Mr Finanzio singled out an example where a patron wasn’t approached until the 14-hour mark.

“That’s just another example…in the more recent period of the advice being given a few hours after the alert?” he asked.

“Yes. It does,” Ms Bauer said.

Mr Finanzio presented more evidence of Crown’s failure, citing a 2019 example where a VIP gambler played for more than 34 hours straight before staff forced them to take a break.

“The system is set up to make it quite possible that someone could gamble for hours on end and not be approached by any staff,” Mr Finanzio said.

Between April and May 2019, he calculated Crown breached its policy on checking on patrons continuously gambling for 12 hours by 127 times out of 136 occasions.

In his opening statement on Tuesday, Mr Finanzio told the inquiry Crown had the ability, money and technology needed to improve its responsible gaming measures “for some time”, but that “motivation may have been lacking” until the royal commission forced its hand.

Royal commission learns about Crown’s responsible gaming operations

Commissioner Finkelstein said one of Crown Melbourne’s responsible gaming advisers, who gave evidence in private, told the probe it was normal for staff not to stop a player gambling well after the staggered time caps.

“They wouldn’t intervene at anytime unless…after getting word that a player had been playing for 12, 15 or 17 hours, would not intervene unless there was some other observable sign,” Commissioner Finkelstein relayed to the public hearings.

Ms Bauer pointed to Crown’s responsible gambling code of conduct.

“I’m talking about what actually happens on the gaming floor, not what is written on a piece of paper,” Mr Finkelstein said.

Earlier in the hearings, Ms Bauer flagged a disconnect between her experience and the “coal face” of the gaming rooms.

Mr Finanzio also took issue with Crown’s 12-hour threshold, telling the commission that research cited by Crown said three hours of continuous gambling was enough to indicate harmful gambling.

Ms Bauer conceded Crown’s policy did not reflect the research.

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