Spotlight on loan sharking at Crown Perth during royal commission

By Noah Taylor Updated
Spotlight on loan sharking at Crown Perth during royal commission

Loan sharking is rife at Crown’s Perth casino, a support service has said.

The ABC reports that Financial Counselling Australia (CFA) has detailed several cases of loan sharking at or near the casino, suggesting they operate with “relative impunity”.

A financial councillor told the inquiry in their submissions Crown was turning a blind eye to the predatory practice.

“They would see someone approaching people. There are cameras everywhere. The casino should be a safe place for people to gamble,” they said.

Crown weighs in on loan sharking allegations

FCA director of policy and campaigns Lauren Levin said loan sharking was one of their key concerns.

“Casinos are not allowed to provide credit. That’s been banned for a long time,” she said.

“Turning a blind eye to those who are providing credit to customers…is a form of willful blindness.”

Crown Perth general manager of security and surveillance Brian Lee was asked about loan sharking when he appeared before the Royal Commission last week.

He told the inquiry the casino had taken steps to ban suspected loan sharks from the facility.

“Most of the time, the ban is a minimum of two years…before they can write to me to ask for revocation,” he said.

“In most instances, the vast majority, if not all, that’s extended past the two-year period.”

He was also asked about a person known as Patron S, who was suspected of loan sharking at the casino.

Mr Lee said based on police concerns and its own suspicions, Crown banned Patron S in 2020.

But concerns about the patron’s behaviour were first raised 11 years earlier.

In 2009, a customer complained that Patron S was loan sharking in the casino’s high roller Pearl Room.

This information was corroborated by a second customer one month later.

Crown’s own security and surveillance team raised around 18 separate notifications in its system about Patron S and loan sharking behaviour between 2013 and 2015.

The FCA submission to the Perth casino royal commission recommends that casinos are included in a national self-exclusion register, to be launched next year.

Ms Levin also wants to see an overhaul of the current casino regulation system, which she described as a “lame duck”.

“It doesn’t have the tools, it doesn’t have the regulation, it doesn’t have the desire,” she said.

“The time for self-regulation is over.

“The most important change we want to see is a single national gambling regulator…with new legislation that has consumer protection at its core.

“By having a national regulator, you get rid of that conflict of interest and the regulator will be able to do its job.”

Centrecare reveals scope of problem gambling in WA

Centrecare, which runs WA’s only dedicated counselling service for gamblers, has seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of people seeking help in the past year.

In its submissions to the inquiry, the service has called for a public awareness campaign to reduce the stigma of gambling addiction and promote support services to a culturally diverse audience.

“Gambling harm is real and it creates problems not just for the individual…but for their families and their partners,” Centrecare director Tony Pietropiccolo said.

“It’s a community issue because the consequences are significant.”

There are currently 2,500 electronic gaming machines at Crown and problem gamblers account for a significant share of the revenue derived from them.

Mr Pietropiccolo is advocating for a system where machines can be pre-programmed with a maximum amount of money that people are unable to surpass.

“I think that is possibly the most effective way of allowing people to have access to what some people consider as entertainment [while still controlling] the impact of those machines on their lives,” he said.

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