Crown back in hot water over scandal
Victoria has begun its royal commission into Crown Resorts to determine if the gaming giant should retain a casino licence for its Melbourne venue.
Commissioner Ray Finkelstein QC on Wednesday opened the probe into the James Packer-backed casino group to find out if the state's largest single site employer was fit to operate a gaming venue.
The Victorian investigation has been sparked by damning findings from a NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) report, which found Crown was not suitable to hold a gaming licence for its $2.2bn Barangaroo casino in Sydney.
Commissioner Patricia Bergin SC, who led the NSW probe, found evidence Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth venues, invoked aggressive selling tactics in China that threatened the safety of staff and used Asian junket tour operators with known links to organised crime.
Ms Bergin also noted in her findings Crown's corporate "arrogance" was a driving factor in its failings.
Mr Finkelstein said the Victorian probe would not overlap with the same issues addressed in the NSW inquiry but noted Crown viewed the NSW findings as a "little equivocal" and open to interpretation.
"Crown companies do not accept in terms the findings made by Commissioner Bergin," Mr Finkelstein said in his opening address.
"This disagreement may not be material, the aspect to the findings in which objections seem to be taken goes to the deliberateness or wilfulness of the conduct concerned.
"On the other hand, the Crown companies do accept that it was open to Commissioner Bergin to conclude that Crown Resorts was not a suitable person to be an associate of Crown Sydney."
Crown's stance is its "substantial reform program" to obtain a Sydney gaming licence will render it suitable to hold its existing gaming licence in Victoria.
"I am concerned that unless the seriousness of the conduct is recognised, any steps to be taken to remedy the position might only be half-hearted," Mr Finkelstein said.
Victoria's royal commission into the nation's largest casino operator will focus on four central concerns.
Firstly, whether money laundering occurred at its Southbank venue; secondly, if the casino breached legislation or regulation standards, and thirdly, if Crown breached any contractual obligations under agreements with the state.
Mr Finkelstein also flagged Crown's licence would rest on a fourth concern on how the company dealt with gambling addiction within its venue.
The commission was told during opening statements that gaming generated roughly 12 per cent of tax revenue for the Victorian government.
Counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio SC said the ILGA report highlighted the systemic issues at Crown were problems occurring at its Melbourne casino.
Mr Finanzio in his opening statement said the problems occurring within the casino for the best part of a decade did not inspire public confidence in Crown's operations.
Between 2014 and 2019 Crown facilitated money laundering though bank accounts of its subsidiaries Southbank and Riverbank accounts.
Media reports in 2019 also found evidence of money laundering activity at Crown Melbourne's Suncity gaming room.
Suncity was Crown's major junket operator and lured high roller gamblers to Australia.
It has also been revealed the Macau-based company had known links to organised crime and Asian triad gangs.
Mr Packer's influence over the Crown board and senior management was also scrutinised by ILGA, which came to the conclusion the billionaire should have no relationship with the gaming company due to prior poor behaviour.
In 2020, the controlling shareholder protocol agreement between Crown and Packer's private company Consolidated Press Holdings was severed.
The commission's findings are expected to be handed down on August 1.
Originally published as Crown back in hot water over scandal