Victoria Regulator Rules Crown Resorts Can Keep Melbourne Casino

March 26, 2024
Australian casino operator Crown Resorts will retain its casino licence in Melbourne after being found suitable by its external special manager and the Victoria state gambling regulator.

Australian casino operator Crown Resorts will retain its casino licence in Melbourne after being found suitable by its external special manager and the Victoria state gambling regulator.

The suitability finding by the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) means the management of Crown Melbourne returns from special manager oversight to full company control, ending two years of remediation efforts and uncertainty over its future.

The VGCCC decision, finalised on March 13, was announced on Tuesday (March 26) by VGCCC chair Fran Thorn at a press conference and in a follow-up opinion piece in The Age newspaper’s online edition.

The VGCCC “is clearly satisfied that Crown Melbourne is suitable to operate the Melbourne Casino and that it is in the public interest that the Licence continues in force”, it said in a separate statement.

“The full Commission decided that Crown Melbourne has addressed the failings identified by the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence.”

Those failings were mostly exposed by investigative journalists, leading to a Royal Commission that identified breaches to Crown’s “legal, social and moral obligations, resulting in illegal activities, tax avoidance, money laundering, criminal associations, and significant harm to vulnerable community members”.

Crown had also obstructed the VGCCC’s predecessor regulator in its investigations, including into the arrests of Crown employees in China in 2016 and their conviction and jailing the following year.

Thorn wrote in The Age that the VGCCC’s suitability finding was based on the external special manager’s report, its work and investigations into casino management and operations, and Crown’s “recognition that it needed a comprehensive transformation plan, against which it would be held accountable”.

But Thorn said that Crown Resorts, which was acquired by US-based Blackstone Group in 2022, must continue to implement reforms under VGCCC supervision and work further to regain public trust that it has turned a corner.

“The community may be assured that the Commission will not hesitate to act if the privilege of holding the casino licence is again abused,” she wrote.

Crown Resorts said in a statement that it “will continue to work constructively with the regulator to ensure ongoing compliance with broader industry regulations and standards".

“Crown expects further updates regarding Crown Sydney’s licence status in the coming weeks, while Crown Perth continues its remediation activity and implementation,” it said.

Crown Resorts CEO Ciarán Carruthers said: “Since the acquisition of Crown Resorts by Blackstone in June 2022, and the appointment of new boards and a new executive leadership team, Crown Resorts has pioneered one of the most complex transformations ever undertaken in Australia.

“Over 10,000 pages of documentation have been submitted and 770 remediation activities have been delivered to our state regulators, fundamentally rebuilding our organisation from the inside out.”

But dissident voices remain, with sceptical journalists asking Thorn at today’s press conference why no one has been held personally liable for Crown Melbourne’s misconduct when it was helmed by mogul James Packer.

Independent federal lawmaker Andrew Wilkie, who has played a role in exposing Crown non-compliance, said on Twitter/X that it is “unfathomable that Crown Casino has been allowed to retain its licence” in Victoria.

“Less than three years ago they were judged ‘illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative’ but no one was ever prosecuted and I have no confidence that they’re fit to hold a licence.”

The Alliance for Gambling Reform, a leading civic gambling watchdog, said Crown has reached its “last chance saloon”, but it accepted the VGCCC’s verdict.

Crown should “make no mistake they are on notice should there be any further breach of the regulations”, alliance chief executive Carol Bennett said.

Crown has been fined a total of around A$700m ($458m) between the VGCCC and federal transactions regulator AUSTRAC since the Royal Commission concluded, and more legacy fines may be on the horizon, the VGCCC said.

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