Victoria mulls further casino law changes aimed at Crown

By Mia Chapman Updated
Victoria mulls further casino and gambling law changes

New laws in Victoria will increase the powers of the state’s gambling watchdog and increase disciplinary consequences for casinos that enable problem gambling.

The Australian Financial Review reports that the proposed legislation, which the Victorian Government will probably pass quickly, delivers on recommendations from the Crown Resorts royal commission held in 2021.

“We’re continuing to hold Crown to account and these changes will strengthen the already robust oversight of the casino operator,” Gaming and Liquor Regulation Minister Melissa Horne said.

“This important legislation will enhance compliance and enforcement powers and ensure reducing gambling harm is a key priority of the regulator.”

The royal commission revealed that Crown allowed high rollers to shift more than $160 million out of China over four years by linking payments from Chinese credit cards to Crown’s Southbank hotel reception, evading anti-money laundering rules and China’s currency controls.

The strengthening of the regulatory powers was recommended by the royal commission after it heard the Victorian gambling watchdog was weak and did not scrutinise Crown’s behaviour properly.

The proposed legislation builds on changes already enacted.

New gambling commission for Crown

If passed, the latest legislation would formalise the division of the state’s gambling and liquor watchdog by transferring alcohol regulation to the justice department and ramping up the powers of the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission.

It would also allow the VGCCC to take a tougher approach to problem gambling, making harm minimisation part of its core businesses and giving it more power to sanction Crown if it breached the gambling code of conduct.

The watchdog can now only discipline Crown if it breaches the code repeatedly.

But the changes would allow it to act on a single breach.

The proposed legislation also gives inspector greater access to casino records and surveillance of gaming activities.

Earlier legislative changes increased maximum fines from $1 million to $100 million.

The changes also gave the VGCCC greater enforcement powers, the ability to take disciplinary action based on the royal commission’s findings and imposed stronger regulatory obligations on Crown.

The watchdog quickly used these powers to bring the first of several anticipated disciplinary actions against Crown over misconduct unearthed by the royal commission in April.

In that action, with which the James Packer-backed organisation has cooperated, Crown aced a $100 million penalty over its controversial China UnionPay scheme plus orders to take rectification steps or variations to its casino licence as a result of the disciplinary action.

Tabling the legislation comes as Blackstone’s $8.9 billion takeover of Crown Resorts stalls until at least the end of June.

Although shareholders including Mr Packer overwhelmingly back the purchase, state-based regulators have not yet granted approval for the investment giant to own Crown’s three casinos in Australia.

It also comes as hearings for the NSW inquiry into rival casino operator Star Entertainment draw to a close.

The inquiry has heard how Star engaged in misconduct that largely mirrored that of Crown, such as disguising China UnionPay transactions as hotel expenses and breaching anti-money laundering laws.

The Victorian government will introduce more changes aimed at implementing royal commissioner Ray Finkelstein’s recommendations in late 2022.

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