Victorian gambling regulator criticises Crown for 2019 media ad

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Crown’s willingness to ban junkets called into question at Victorian royal commission

A media advertisement attacking an expose that revealed money laundering and criminal infiltration in Crown casinos has been labelled “highly inappropriate” by the Victorian gambling regulator.

The Age reports that the Victorian Commission for Gaming and Liquor Regulation has also found that Crown’s executive chairman Helen Coonan and a group of former directors should have acted on warnings staff were at risk in China before 19 were arrested there for illegally promoting gambling in 2016.

The VCGLR completed its final report into these arrests in February 2021 and a redacted version was publicly released for the first time this week after it was tabled as evidence at Victoria’s royal commision into whether Crown is suitable to hold a licence.

Crown’s “unnecessarily belligerent” approach to the watchdog’s investigation meant the report took far longer than necessary, it said.

Much of the document consists of evidence and testimony from the 2020 Bergin inquiry in NSW, which found Crown unfit to hold a casino licence in Sydney.

The VCGLR report said it was of particular concern that Ms Coonan and three departed directors, Rowena Danziger, John Horvath and Andrew Demetriou, knew in August 2015 that Chinese police had arrested marketing staff from a South Korean casino and accepted that was one of several red flags Crown should have acted on.

“Unfortunately for these Crown staff who were arrested, convicted and sentenced in China, these opportunities were missed and never acted upon,” the report said.

Advertisement following media expose was “highly provocative”

The report also questioned the Crown directors who signed a full-page advertisement Crown ran in July 2019 defending its activities in China and attacking a media expose that led to the Bergin inquiry.

The VCGLR said the advertisement was “highly provocative” and “highly inappropriate” because it failed to mention what Ms Coonan would later tell the Bergin inquiry was a “collective concern” of directors that Crown executives had not told them the full risks of working in China.

The advertisement also falsely implied Crown relied on legal advice about its activities prior to the arrests; and sought to question the motives of one of the arrested employees who spoke to the investigation, the commission said.

“The response to the media allegations is a further instance of a breakdown in the corporate governance structures at Crown Melbourne and Crown Resorts,” the report said.

“It has also raised concerns about the capabilities of the individual directors, some of whom are or were directors of Crown Melbourne at the time the response to the media allegations was published by Crown.”

The advertisement was signed by all 11 Crown directors at the time.

Former Howard government minister Ms Coonan, Toni Korsanos and Jane Halton are the only directors still at the company following a string of resignations before and after the Bergin inquiry.

Ms Coonan and Ms Halton told the Bergin inquiry that, in hindsight, the advertisement was inappropriate.

The NSW inquiry found that Ms Coonan, a Crown director since 2011 and the only board member who was serving at the time of the China arrests, was the right person to lead Crown through the significant reforms needed to win back its Sydney casino licence.

The VCGLR report said that Crown accepted some failings related to the China arrests but that they “did not go far enough”.

Crown still did not acknowledge that its risk management procedures were deficient; that there were more people in the company including directors who failed to act on red flags’ and that there was the potential for conflicts of interest between Crown and its arrested staff, and its major shareholder James Packer, the report said.

Back to top