Problem gambling controls at Perth casino called into question

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Perth Casino royal commission draws to a close

Problem gamblers who regularly attended Crown Casino and voluntarily banned themselves were never identified as harmful punters. that the royal commission into the Perth branch of the troubled casino operator exposed holes in its detection of problem gamblers.

When customers are identified inside Crown as exhibiting signs of problem gambling, one of the options provided to the individual is to voluntarily self-exclude themselves, essentially forfeiting their right to gamble at the casino for 12 months.

Responsible gaming advisors inside the casino are tasked with monitoring for signs of harmful gambling.

But of the 182 people who took this drastic option in 2020, a staggering 150 had never been detected by staff before as having “exhibited observable features”.

“That is over 80 per cent of the persons who sought self-exclusion had not been detected,” counsel assisting the Perth casino royal commission David Leigh said.

During the grilling into Crown’s standards and responsibilities to monitor for problem gambling, the company’s general manager for responsible gambling, Melanie Strelein Faulks, rejected suggestions those who sought self-exclusion were all problem gamblers.

Harmful punters not picked up by Crown

But she did admit a large number of harmful punters were falling through the company’s net for a combination of reasons, including insufficient training.

Ms Strelein Faulks accepted other reasons for harmful punters being missed, included staff being distracted with other tasks, not realising the cumulative impact of the signs they were witnessing, or the punter successfully hiding signs of problematic activity.

Crown Perth attracts up to 20,000 guests per day.

The responsible gaming manager, on grilling from Counsel Leigh, agreed there was no way trained advisors could observe the behaviour of each and every patron.

Ms Strelein Faulks agreed floor staff at the casino were the “eyes and ears” for responsible gaming advisors and the detection of those suffering from harmful gambling depended on the effectiveness of ordinary staff.

Despite this, workers outside the responsible gaming advisors team receive no formal training and are not assessed on their ability to monitor problem gambling.

Under examination, the responsible gaming manager revealed there were no inspections or reviews to test if staff had retained casual on-the-job training to know the basic signs.

Mr Leigh asked: “Has Crown ever, at any stage, had any other form of assessment to try to determine whether the RGA system is working properly?”

Ms Strelein Faulks replied: “Not formally, no.”

Invite only room attracts casino high rollers

An exclusive VIP-only gambling room at Crown Perth opened, despite the state’s lockdown in late June and July. 

The Pearl Room is Crown Perth’s invite-only high-roller facility, with patrons required to have a minimum turnover of $100,000 per year.

In return, they can gamble bigger amounts of money and are given their own hosts, who provide them with food, drink and even entertainment, including tickets to sporting events and shows. 

With the closure of the Australian border last year and the ban on junkets after the Bergin inquiry, the room has overwhelmingly catered for domestic gamblers.

Mr Lee said Crown Perth notified the casino watchdog, the Gaming and Wagering Commission, about its opening of the Pearl Room after the most recent lockdown.

Mr Lee was questioned in response to evidence given to the royal commission by Crown Perth’s director of casino operations for gaming machines, Melissa Smith.

Ms Smith said the Pearl Room was open during the last lockdown period.

Her husband Richard Smith, a Pearl Room manager, also gave evidence on Tuesday that it was “possible” the high-roller facility had stayed open during the lockdown.

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