WA Gaming and Wagering Commission member fronts Perth Casino royal commission

By William Brown Updated
Crown Perth found unsuitable to hold casino licence

The Perth Casino royal commission has heard that the state’s casino watchdog doesn’t have the resources or skills to deal with money laundering or criminal infiltration.

The ABC reports that Gaming and Wagering Commission member Barry Sargeant gave evidence the GWC were aware these were risks, but did not have any policies or procedures for dealing with the risks of criminal activity at the casino.

Instead, Mr Sargeant said the regulator relied on other agencies, such as WA Police, the Australian Federal Police or Austrac, to tell them about criminal activity.

“I did rely on them to raise issues with use rather than the other way around,” he said.

This is despite the GWC having significant powers in its legislation to ask the Police Commissioner to investigate anything, and also request its minister to call an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission.

The Perth Casino royal commission was called by the WA government in response to the Bergin inquiry in NSW, which found that international criminal syndicates were likely to have laundered millions of dollars through Crown Perth.

This money is believed to have been laundered through a $2 shell company called Riverbank, but Mr Sargeant said he was unaware of the account until media reports in 2019.

“I have got no detail about what was going on in respect to the Riverbank accounts,” he said.

One of the royal commission’s terms of reference is to look at potential conflicts of interest, real or perceived, by officers involved with casino regulation.

Sergeant takes trip to Asia to visit Crown properties

Mr Sargeant, a former public servant who oversaw the regulation of Crown Perth for about 25 years, including as chair of the GWC, had to answer questions about his potential conflict of interest over a trip to Macau in 2013 at the request of Crown.

Crown paid for his trip, which he said was to help him better understand the Asian casino market as it sought to develop the Crown Towers hotel in the casino complex on the Burswood Peninsula.

Crown required the permission of the WA government for the development.

“Well, Crown’s perspective was that the particular Chinese market was going to be very much part of their strategy and they were looking beyond the completion of the hotel now and when the matters were coming before them, particularly the minister and the government rather than as the GWC, which required action under the Casino Burswood Island Agreement Act to implement,” he said.

“They just thought that people like I, in particular, didn’t appreciate what their competition was up there, and I hadn’t been there for many years, so they were keen for me to travel to Asia and look at their facilities.”

This week featured the first days of witness hearings and a compelling theme of the evidence presented was that senior regulators did not have any experience in casinos or any formal training.

This included Mr Sargeant, although he said Western Australia’s first chief casino officer, Michael Egan, was well qualified to regulate because of his legal background, past experience in Tasmania and former work as a croupier.

He said Mr Egan taught him a lot but later left the position to work for Crown in 2009.

The royal commission heard of several former departmental staff who would later be employed by the casino.

These included Crown Perth’s manager of legal and compliance Claude Marais, whose fishing trips with former chief casino officer Michael Connolly caused the bureaucrat to stand aside in February, due to a perceived or real conflict of interest.

Mr Sargeant said Michael Connolly, a keen fisherman with a background in fishing regulation, first told him of his relationship with Claude Marais in 2015, but he did not think Mr Marais would have any influence over him.

He said he now saw the potential conflict of interest in a different light.

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