Perth casino chief officer quizzed by royal commission

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Crown Perth suitability report due soon

The chief casino officer of Perth Casino and its compliance boss were good friends, the casino royal commission has heard.

ABC reports that Crown Perth’s former head of compliance, Paul Hulme, gave evidence at the royal commission in mid-August and was in charge of making sure the casino followed all laws and regulations until he left the role in November 2019.

The long-time friend of former chief casino officer Michael Connolly was also part of a band of Crown Perth executives that Mr Connolly took on regular fishing trips on a boat he liked to call “The Good Ship Compliance”.

Mr Hulme told the royal commission about their close personal relationship, saying it began in 1990, when they were both casino inspectors, and adding “Mick and I go back a long way”.

But he said their relationship deepened after Mr Connolly returned from a two-year secondment at WA’s Department of Fisheries and became chief casino officer.

“I didn’t have a lot to do with Mick. I got to understand him more,” he said.

“He’s a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s probably one of a handful of officers at the department which has a good work ethic and a sound understanding of gaming operations. 

“I at times felt sorry for him for the workload he was under and I was a bit of a sounding board for him at times and our friendship grew from there.”

Connolly and Hulme’s relationship under the microscope

One of the royal commission’s terms of reference is whether the casino watchdog, the Gaming and Wagering Commission, along with the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, adequately managed any conflicts of interest by staff involved in casino regulation.

Mr Connolly stood aside from his position when his friendships with Crown executives became public.

Mr Hulme said he went fishing about five times with Mr Connolly and crayfishing on about eight occasions over about five years, with the pair frequently accompanied by legal and compliance manager Claude Marais.

But this was only when Mr Connolly was chief casino officer and not when he was on a two-year secondment at the Department of Fisheries.

Mr Hulme said Mr Marais raised the fishing trips with former Crown Perth chief executive Barry Sargeant and legal boss Joshua Preston.

“It was like two school kids asking for permission, but Claude did that,” he said.

“Then Mick, equally, came back and said he’d spoken to the chair of the commission and he had no objections.”

Mr Hulme described his role as the “main conduit” between the company and the GWC and the department.

This involved managing submissions from Crown Perth to the GWC, including some which have faced scrutiny at the royal commission, including a proposal to abolish casino inspectors and make electronic gaming machines earn more revenue for the casino.

Both were ultimately approved by the GWC, but Commissioner Lindy Jenkins Mr Hulme on whether the gaming machines submission was misleading.

“Look, you can always write something better in hindsight,” Mr Hulme said.

The royal commission also heard Crown Perth only informed the regulator about the Riverbank account days after media reports raised concerns it was being used by criminals to wash dirty money.

Under the laws regulating the Perth casino, Crown Perth is required to tell the regulator about casino wagering accounts.

When Crown Perth finally informed the department about the Riverbank account in August 2019, Mr Hulme said they only mentioned the missing statements for 2018-19 and did not include any historic statements.

He said he was not asked for any more information by the department but remembered that Mr Connolly called to ask about it.

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