Victorian Premier defends Crown royal commission decision 

By Ethan Anderson Updated
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Melbourne’s Crown Casino could lose its licence in the state if a royal commission into the gambling giant deems the casino operator unsuitable to hold a licence in Victoria.

The Age reports that Crown’s future in Melbourne was thrown into doubt after the Victorian government announced the unprecedented inquiry last Monday.

“This is a royal commission to determine whether they’re fit to hold that licence,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“If you’re having that process, you have to be clear that you’ll implement the findings. It’s going to be a rigorous process.”

As Mr Andrews defended the time taken for Victoria to proceed to a significant inquiry, Mr Andrews said the royal commission would mean legal issues that could arise are dealt with by its commissioner, former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, QC.

“You’re not going to have me standing here apologising for having the highest and most formal legal process in place to determine whether that business should have that licence,” Mr Andrews said.

“It’s more than just a gaming floor. It’s an entire precinct. That is the biggest single solid employer in the state, but it has to be run to the highest of standards and not just through what’s been found, but what’s been admitted,” he said.

“Let’s have this process, let’s get to the bottom of those issues.”

Mr Andrews stressed he was not foreshadowing that the casino would keep or lose its licence, saying that was the purpose of the inquiry.

The move followed months of damning evidence to a NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, which this month found that Crown was unfit to hold a casino licence at its newly built Barangaroo complex in Sydney.

It also came after the Western Australian government announced its own probe into the allegations.

Mr Andrews said Victoria needed to hold its own inquiry outside the NSW probe, which largely concerned conduct at the Melbourne casino, or risk creating a “lawyer’s picnic.”

Mr Andrews said he did not regret that the government had taken until now to call the inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing at Crown.

“I’m not someone who looks backwards. I’ve just made an important decision and we’re going to get the right outcome here,” he said.

Mr Andrews would not speculate on what the precinct would look like if Crown was found ineligible to hold a gaming licence, but reiterated that the casino plays an important cultural and commercial role in the city.

“It’s a very important part of our city,” Mr Andrews said.

He said while playing blackjack might not be for everyone, as an employer and as a precinct, Crown made a lot of economic activity possible.

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Mr Andrews did not attend Monday afternoon’s press conference to announce the inquiry, leaving Gaming Minister Melissa Horne to answer questions.

“She’s the Gaming Minister and it’s a matter of gaming and she’s perfectly capable of making the announcement.

Shortly after the government announced the royal commission, Crown informed the sharemarket that long serving director Harold Mitchell would step down from the company’s board.

He became the fifth director, including the company’s chief executive, to be forced out in the past fortnight.

The Victorian regulator has faced criticism for inaction in the face of media reports and the NSW inquiry and Mr Andrews suggested change was already underway.

He said the state cabinet had resolved to set up a standalone regulator to manage the licence of Crown alone.

“I think there is a very strong case and we will move to have a standalone regulator of that single casino licence. I think that that is the right thing to do,” Mr Andrews said.

“We’ve already made it clear, cabinet yesterday determined that we should do the work to build that system and that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

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