Victorian government breaks up gambling commission

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Crown CEO Steve McCann exits the business

The Victorian Government has announced it will break up the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation and set up a dedicated new gambling and casino control commission.

The ABC reports the change follows years of criticism of the regulators’ failings to stop criminal activity at Crown, including those aired by numerous whistleblowers on a recent Four Corners program.

Premier Daniel Andrews had promised a dedicated casino regulator in light of the damning evidence about Crown.

The government has announced the new gambling and casino control commission instead, with a dedicated division for the casino.

Gaming Minister Melissa Horne said the new commission, to be established by the end of the year, would also have greater focus on harm minimisation.

Xavier Walsh steps aside at Crown

While the Victorian regulator has announced an upheaval, so too has the state’s only casino.

It has been announced that Crown Melbourne chief executive officer Xavier Walsh will step down at the end of August.

The announcement comes just before the Victorian royal commission into which the state’s casino operator resumes to hear submissions, including from Crown Resorts and Crown Melbourne.

In July, counsel assisting the commission, Adrian Finanzio SC, told the inquiry that Crown was not suitable to hold Victoria’s sole casino licence.

Mr Finanzio told the inquiry Mr Walsh and executive chair Helen Coonan were not suitable to lead reform the company.

Ms Coonan remains in her role.

Crown has now told the ASX that Mr Walsh will cease his role on August 20.

But he will “remain available to assist the company until his employment at Crown ends on December 9, 2021,” Crown said.

Crown will announce an interim CEO after consultation with Victorian authorities according to the company.

Pressure has been mounting on Crown since a New South Wales inquiry, which heard evidence of wrongdoing at the Melbourne casino, said the gaming giant was not suitable to hold a licence in that state.

The Bergin inquiry prompted the Victorian and Western Australian governments to call royal commissions into Crown’s operations in their states.

The Victorian commission, led by former federal court judge and senior barrister Ray Finkelstein, QC, was meant to hand down its recommendations by August 1.

The deadline was pushed back to October 15 on the request of Commissioner Finkelstein after serious evidence emerged during the first weeks of public hearings.

Walsh’s departure from Crown comes after some of the company’s directors expressed doubt about his suitability.

Directors Jane Halton and Toni Korsanos told the inquiry on July 7 that they were concerned chief executive Xavier Walsh had failed to tell them about Crown’s tax issue at meetings in March.

The commission heard explosive evidence on June 7 that Crown had underpaid tax to Victoria since 2012 by making illegal deductions from its poker machine revenue and hid the practice from the state’s gambling regulator.

The regulator and commission only learnt about the practice after a Crown senior manager sent documents to the inquiry by mistake, estimating the tax it could owe, with estimates ranging from $8 million up to $272 million.

Ms Halton and Ms Korsanos, who are two of the three Crown directors to survive last year’s damning NSW Bergin Inquiry into the group, said they were in a Crown board meeting when they received a news article detailing the revelation.

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