National casino regulation is needed to stamp out junkets: Crown investor 

By William Brown Updated
New Victorian tax calculation could hurt Crown’s pokies dollars

A Crown Resorts investor wants national casino regulation when it comes to high-roller gamblers and junket operators.

The Australian Financial Review reports that to stamp out money laundering and criminal infiltration at Australia casinos, Investors Mutual, which has $7 billion under management and holds just more than two per cent of Crown’s stock, said the national regulation is needed.

It has also asked the Victorian government to stump up more cash to better fund the starved Victorian casino watchdog, which failed to rein in illegal activity at Crown Melbourne.

The fund’s head of investment, Anton Tagliaferro, wrote in a submission to the Victorian royal commission that is investigating Crown’s suitability to run its sprawling Southbank casino complex, that “a nationally consistent framework is urgently required”.

He said regulators had failed to “keep pace” with the risks associated with growth in the number of high rollers lured to Australia to gamble, without singling out the specific failures of the federal financial crime watchdog, AUSTRAC, to stop money laundering and the state regulators to check the probity of junket operators.

It was revealed in 2019 that Crown partnered with high-roller junket operators who churned hundreds of millions of dirty money through the Southbank casino.

That sparked the NSW Bergin inquiry, which found Crown unfit to open its Sydney casino in February.

Victorian inquiry comes to a close

The NSW findings triggered the Victorian inquiry, which has since revealed even more millions of laundered money and more illegal activity, including Crown’s failure to protect problem gamblers. This emerged as a key issue during the inquiry.

All this has exposed the $7.4 billion company to the possibility of counsel assisting the commission telling royal commissioner Ray Finkelstein, QC, to find Crown unfit to hold its flagship Melbourne casino licence.

In his submission, Mr Tagliaferro said that “part of the reasons for the need for more uniform and clear regulations and why some deficiencies have occurred is because regulations vary between different states”.

“As the high-roller market grew and international competition grew intensely to attract players, in particular from Macau, Singapore and Las Vegas, it appears that the regulatory framework has not evolved sufficiently to keep pace with the emerging growth and risks in this sector,” the pair told the commission.

Anonymous Crown employees detail Mahogany Room antics

Although Mr Tagliaferro did not explicitly list out the rules and regulations he wanted streamlined, he backed the spirit of unified national regulation of the casino sector, recommended in the Bergin report.

His call for urgent national regulation of high rollers and more cash for the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation comes as more damning evidence of Crown’s failure to protect problem gamblers, a key area of oversight for the VCGLR, was revealed in a closed session of the royal commission on May 21.

Commissioner Finkelstein has made it clear throughout the inquiry that the way Crown manages problem gambling will weigh heavily when he decides if it is fit to keep Victoria’s only casino licence.

An anonymous Crown employee who has worked for seven years as an executive host at the Mahogany Room, an exclusive space within the casino for high rollers, said in the May hearings that some players churned millions and tens of millions through the table games.

But the employee could not recall the name of a single one of the 500 clients who had self-excluded from the casino because of problem gambling.

This is consistent with the five previous anonymous employee testimonies given on May 21, revealing that none of the employees who worked across the casino viewed responsible gambling as a key part of their job, despite Crown management insisting it was the case.

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