An external review into The Star Entertainment Group’s casino operations in Queensland has found the company’s conduct to be “inconsistent” with casino legislation, paving the way for the state gambling regulator to declare it unsuitable to hold a casino licence.
The 168-page review by Queen’s Counsel Robert Gotterson was released to the public on Thursday (October 6), declaring that Star’s two casinos in the state were “operated in a way that is inconsistent with the achievement of the objectives of the Casino Control Act 1982 (Qld)”.
The review was not empowered to declare unsuitability, but Gotterson found that Star’s conduct “appears to leave open a finding … of unsuitability of the licensees of The Star’s Queensland Casinos”.
Gotterson declared that Star “actively encouraged” gamblers excluded from other Australian casinos, including at The Star in Sydney, to gamble in Queensland. These gamblers included people of likely criminal background, he said.
As with adverse findings on Star Entertainment in New South Wales (NSW) state and on Crown Resorts in Victoria state, the report said Star was either “less than forthcoming” or “deliberately misleading” in its use of the China UnionPay debit card to disguise gaming transactions as hotel expenses.
And as in NSW, Star Entertainment was “insufficiently transparent” with the state regulator about procedural changes that allowed the China UnionPay to be exploited despite breaching the rules of the card company and those of the National Australia Bank (NAB).
“It was a serious dereliction of The Star’s AML/CTF [anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing] responsibilities that the deficiencies explored in the Inquiry could occur in the first place and that they could persist over some years.
“The Star’s AML/CTF program was seriously deficient until relatively recent times. It remains deficient at least for its lack of clarity and discordance with the AML regime’s risk ratings.”
Gotterson’s recommendations, however, assume that Star Entertainment will retain its licence to operate in Queensland, a reasonably safe assumption given that much more extensively documented breaches of the law in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia by Star and Crown did not result in licence cancellation.
The Queensland government has also expended considerable political capital in promoting the Queen's Wharf project, thereby increasing electoral risk if the project collapses.
The 12 recommendations in the report are unremarkable in that they resemble recommendations in other state government probes, including introduction of carded play, cashless gambling, a pre-commitment system and player time restrictions, as well as tighter collection of player data and regulatory scrutiny.
Most notable, however, is an absence of findings on allegations of criminal association against Star’s Chinese partner on the multibillion-dollar Queen’s Wharf casino precinct in Brisbane.
In his introduction, Gotterson notes the state attorney general requested that he consider media claims that jewellery giant Chow Tai Fook is linked to organised crime.
But Gotterson does not engage the matter following his acknowledgement that Chow Tai Fook’s suitability falls within the inquiry’s terms of reference.
It was not immediately clear if Gotterson will submit separate findings on the Hong Kong-based company to the regulator.
Queensland’s Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation is probing Chow Tai Fook’s record anew, following the media reports and attorney general Shannon Fentiman’s undertaking to probe the “incredibly concerning” allegations.