Victoria Regulator Praises Crown's Rebound But Wields 'Plan B'

March 6, 2023
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Victoria state’s gambling regulator has praised casino operator Crown Resorts and US-based owner Blackstone Group for their cooperation as Crown Melbourne attempts to regain licence suitability, but a “Plan B” to keep the casino operating will still apply even if the licence is cancelled.

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Victoria state’s gambling regulator has praised casino operator Crown Resorts and US-based owner Blackstone Group for their cooperation as Crown Melbourne attempts to regain licence suitability, but a “Plan B” to keep the casino operating will still apply even if the licence is cancelled.

Annette Kimmitt, CEO of the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC), said on Monday (March 6) that Crown and Blackstone are “running really hard at doing everything they can to return to suitability”, but that a receivership-like contingency plan will otherwise apply.

Kimmitt told the Regulating The Game gambling conference in Sydney that the VGCCC is preparing a framework for the suitability decision based on the report of the casino’s special manager and other considerations, with a decision on Crown’s fate as licensee due by early 2024.

However, she added that a “Plan B” is also being prepared “to prepare for the possible cancellation of the casino licence”.

“Plan B includes us pre-emptively identifying an appropriately qualified person or persons to manage the casino, in the event that the current licence is cancelled.

“And it also includes making sure that we have a fully developed transition out-plan agreed with Crown Melbourne, ahead of the Commission’s suitability determination.

“Now let me be really clear. In undertaking that work, the Commission has made no prejudgment on suitability or public interest questions.

“The purpose of Plan B is to be prudent, it’s to prudently plan for all eventualities and to ensure continuity of casino services in Melbourne in the event of cancellation,” she said.

The confirmation of a “Plan B” contingency all but guarantees the survival of the casino, one of Asia’s largest, regardless of Crown’s fate.

“I think it’s government policy in Victoria that we will … continue to have a casino in Victoria,” she told VIXIO GamblingCompliance. “That is not in question.”

Kimmitt would not provide details on Crown’s progress in recovering the suitability it lost ignominiously after suffering withering criticism in a Royal Commission report into Crown Melbourne’s operations.

However, Kimmitt told reporters on the sidelines of the conference that Crown and Blackstone, which purchased Crown while reeling from years of bad press and amid a cleansing of the board, have stepped up.

“Crown and Blackstone have got a lot on the line here, they are running really hard at doing everything they can to return to suitability.

“So we are really pleased with, I guess, the approach they are taking, the attitude, the mindset, they are clearly working very hard.

“What was really pleasing with working with Blackstone, is when we put to them that much higher bar of expectations, you know, they signed up to it.

“They were incorporating those [expectations] into their board charters, they agreed to be bound to them, under the deeds that we’ve agreed with them. So that commitment to doing more is very heartening for us.”

Kimmitt’s conference presentation on Monday represented a statement of new confidence and authority for the regulator since being carved out of the former state casino and liquor regulator mid-last year.

She shared anecdotes of personally inspecting pubs and clubs and staring down recent misogynist and aggressive behaviour from industry figures now under her authority “who don’t read the tea leaves”.

After being “shellshocked” from negative press, whistleblower complaints and other problems, the VGCCC now has “the appetite for a much more ambitious, assertive and activist role as a regulator”, she said.

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