Journalist wins award for breaking Crown Resorts junket story

By Noah Taylor Updated
Crown’s willingness to ban junkets called into question at Victorian royal commission

An Australian journalist who broke the news that Crown Resorts had ties with triad junket operators has been named Journalist of the Year at the Melbourne Press Club’s Quill Awards, presented at Crown’s Palladium event space.

Journalist Nick McKenzie and colleagues poured over thousands of leaked internal Crown documents in stories published that ultimately wreaked havoc on the casino operator.

Among their conclusions was that Crown had allowed criminal gangs to launder drug money through its casinos in Australia.

They also accused the company of exploiting weaknesses in the Australian visa system to fast track known criminals into Australia to gamble.

McKenzie described a “lust for profits-proven arrogant culture where almost anything, including courting people with ties to the criminal underworld, was not only allowed, but encouraged.”

Following the reports, Crown took out a full-page advertisement in a rival newspaper, claiming this “unbalanced and sensationalised reporting is based on unsubstantiated allegations, exaggerations, unsupported connections and outright falsehoods.”

The report led to a 700-plus page report compiled by former New South Wales Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, who found that Crown had been “facilitating money laundering, exposing staff to the risk of detention in a foreign jurisdiction, and pursuing commercial relationships with individuals with connections to triads and organised crime groups.”

As a result, Crown lost its licence in NSW, with plans for its Crown Sydney high roller casino derailed.

The bombshell Bergin report has triggered similar enquiries in Victoria and Western Australia, Crown’s other two operational Australian jurisdictions.

Crown Resorts’ failure to open could spell trouble for NSW government accounts

The repercussions of Crown Resorts being unable to open its casino in Barangaroo is set to have big repercussions on the New South Wales government’s coffers.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in February that NSW is already preparing to take a $190 million hit in casino tax revenue as a result of the coronavirus border closures, with budget forecasts showing it would take several years to recover that revenue.

If the James Packer-backed group is denied a licence or another company doesn’t take over the under fire casino, the government faces as much as $400 million in lost tax revenue.

This comes as a number of high-profile directors have left their Crown posts, including Andrew Demetriou, who resigned after gambling regulators in Victoria and NSW pushed him and Crown boss Ken Barton to leave after being heavily criticised in an inquiry that found the company unfit to run a casino.

The independent Bergin inquiry found that Crown Resorts is unfit to hold a casino licence in NSW, with a scatching report released this week confirming Crown had “facilitated money laundering”.

Gambling regulators in NSW and Victoria earlier took aim at Mr Barton and Mr Demetriou for their refusal to resign after being heavily criticised in the report.

Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation chief Catherine Myers said on Thursday she would demand the pair explain why they should be allowed to be involved with the group’s flagship Melbourne casino.

That came hours after her NSW counterpart, Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chair Philip Crawford, said that Crown needed to part ways with Mr Barton and the former AFL boss Mr Demetriou if it ever wanted to open its new casino at Barangaroo.

Former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin found that Mr Barton was “no match for what is needed at the helm of a casino” and called Mr Demetriou’s appearance at her public inquiry “unedifying”.

Mr Crawford said there was no guarantee Crown would be able to make itself suitable to open the new casino in NSW.

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