Victoria extends length of Crown royal commission

By Ethan Anderson Updated
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The Victorian government has extended the royal commission into Crown Resorts for a further 10 weeks.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the state government granted the request of commissioner Ray Finkelstein for more time and funding to complete his assessment of how Crown runs its Southbank casino.

Announced last February, the royal commission was prompted following an inquiry in New South Wales that found Crown unfit to open its new Sydney casino.

The royal commission report was originally due on August 1, but with the extension granted, will now be received on October 15, while its budget has almost doubled from $10 million to $19.5 million.

Victoria’s opposition had criticised the inquiry’s initial tight timeframe as more proof the government was beholden to the James Packer-backed gambling giant.

Commissioner Finkelstein requested the extension after serious evidence emerged during the first three weeks of public hearings.

That included an apparent lax attitude to minimising gambling harm and gambling addiction, ongoing problems with corporate culture and a revelation that Crown may have underpaid the state almost $200 million in gambling taxes.

“We established this royal commission to get the answers we need about Crown,” acting premier James Merlino said.

“This extension will ensure the scope of evidence provided so far is able to be thoroughly considered.”

Additional time and money given to royal commission

The government said the additional time would allow Crown to prepare documents the commission had requested and for the commission to “undertake sufficient consultation with relevant and interested parties.”

Crown’s executive chairman Helen Coonan has pledged to address any “shortcomings” identified by the royal commission and said her board had enacted a “sweeping program of significant reforms”.

“We cannot change the past, but we can be absolutely steadfast in the approach we take to driving the culture and transparency of the company into the future,” Ms Coonan said.

Crown told the Victorian commission last month that a search of 14 bank accounts is underway, to check for evidence of money laundering, and that it would not be completed by the inquiry’s August 1 deadline.

Crown’s facilitation of money laundering by criminals at its Melbourne and Perth casinos was one of the key reasons why the NSW inquiry found Crown unfit to hold a licence for its Sydney casino.

However, counsel assisting the Victorian inquiry has said the evidence examined in the Bergin inquiry, which was triggered by a series of reports, could be just the “tip of the iceberg”.

Victorian royal commission examines different elements of Crown operation compared to NSW inquiry

Commissioner Finkelstein is also probing areas that were excluded from the NSW inquiry’s terms of reference, in particular whether Crown provides gambling services responsibly.

Already, he has heard about how Crown let patrons gamble for 18 hours straight before forcing them to take a break, a limit that was reduced from 24 hours only last year and only checks on patrons for signs of gambling harm after 12 hours.

Crown also potentially underpaid the Victorian government $200 million in gambling taxes over seven years, by deducting marketing expenses such as free car parking, from its poker machine takings before calculating what it owed the state.

The $8 billion company continues to try to convince the NSW gambling regulator that it has made enough changes to allow its Sydney casino licence to be reinstated.

Crown was set to open the casino at its $2.2 billion Barangaroo facility in December 2020.

A separate royal commission into Crown’s operations will recommence in Western Australia in late June.

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