Victorian royal commission labels Crown “disgraceful”

By Charlotte Lee Updated
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The Victorian royal commission investigating Crown Resorts has found the Melbourne casino operator acted in an “disgraceful” manner, but it will keep its casino licence, for now.

ABC News reports that the final report by commissioner Ray Finkelstein recommended Crown Melbourne should be given a two-year grace period under the control of a “special manager” to correct an “alarming catalogue of wrongdoing”.

The Victorian royal commission into the casino operator and licence found evidence of links to criminal gangs and repeated breaches of money laundering laws and the casino’s contract with the state.

That contract will not be ripped up despite Crown breaching the law, including hiding spurious state tax deductions from the regulator and dudding Victoria out of a potential $200 million in tax.

However, at the end of the grace period, the special manager will recommend to the regulator whether Crown should keep its Victorian casino licence.

The regulator will then have to decide whether it is “clearly satisfied” that Crown Melbourne has returned to suitability.

Mr Finkelstein warned that “this will be a tough test to satisfy”.

The report stated that “not only was Crown Melbourne content to breach local laws”, between 2012 and 2016 it helped Chinese customers transfer up to $160 million from accounts in China to the Crown Towers Hotel for, contravening local laws and allowing “money laundering to take place”.

“The commission discovered that for many years Crown Melbourne had engaged in conduct that is, in a word, disgraceful,” the report said.

“This is a convenient shorthand for describing conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative.”

Crown retains licence, but special manager to be appointed for two years

Despite declining to recommend that Crown’s licence be immediately revoked, Mr Finkelstein was scathing in his assessment of the company’s breach of trust.

“The catalogue of wrongdoing is alarming, all the more so because it was engaged by a regulated entity whose privilege to hold a casino licence is dependent upon it being, at all times, a person of good character, honesty and integrity.

“It is difficult to grade the seriousness of the misconduct. Some were so callous that it is hard to imagine it could be engaged in by such a well-known corporation whose Melbourne Casino Complex is visited by millions annually.”

Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne said the default position would be that Crown would lose its licence unless it could demonstrate it had changed for the better.

“What we’re doing is taking the recommendation and saying, at the end of those two years, the government will automatically assume that Crown’s licence has been cancelled unless they demonstrate otherwise,” she said.

“This puts the onus well and truly on Crown to reform itself.”

In addition, Victoria will ban foreign junkets under new laws tabled in Parliament.

The government is also beefing up the maximum fine for breaching the state’s gaming act to $100 million. It was just $1 million.

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said he backed the royal commission’s recommendations.

He said if the Coalition won the next election, it would support the commission’s recommendation that Crown’s licence should be presumed cancelled after the two-year special manager period unless it could satisfy the regulator that it was fit to continue operating the Melbourne casino.

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said even tougher regulatory changes were needed, noting her party had put forward a bill encompassing such measures in the last sitting week.

“This is the biggest scandal in Victoria’s corporate history and yet its culprit is living to see another day,” she said.

“This is a story of how the gambling billionaires win.

“The government has set Crown up as too big to fail, and then failed themselves to stop the corruption and gambling harms.”

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