Victorian Government under pressure over Crown Casino after NSW inquiry

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has defended the state’s gambling watchdog after a scathing New South Wales inquiry found Crown Resorts was not suitable to hold a casino licence in that state.

Mr Andrews also flagged that Victoria was considering creating an independent casino commission separate from the under-fire Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR).

The Government is under serious pressure over Crown’s Southbank casino, with much of the evidence before the NSW probe based on events and behaviour associated with the Melbourne casino.

When questioned on the effectiveness of the regulator, Mr Andrews said “we’re not stubborn about this”, saying changes would be made “if there’s need for improvement”.

“There’ll be a day to have a very long discussion about all these issues… but we do have to just take the time to read the thing, go through it, understand it.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today warned Crown Resorts “all bets are off” at its Sydney casino, if her state’s gaming regulator adopted the findings from the report.

Western Australia’s Gaming Minister said the report’s findings would be urgently reviewed.

The probe heard evidence from Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos before determining it unfit to hold a licence in Sydney.(ABC News: Jane Cowan)

The Andrews Government has already brought forward the five-yearly review of Crown’s license in Melbourne to 2021, but that will still be carried out by the VCGLR.

While the Greens and others want Crown to lose its license immediately, the Opposition wants a judicial review into Crown’s suitability in Victoria.

“What I think is really extraordinary is that it has taken a New South Wales-based inquiry to tell us what problems exist in our own backyard in Melbourne,” Shadow Gaming Minister and Deputy Nationals Leader Steph Ryan said.

“What a judicial inquiry, I expect, might look at, is the gaps that exist with the Victorian regulator that has allowed that behaviour to occur under the nose of the Victorian regulator for years.”

The months-long inquiry heard evidence of money laundering and links to international criminal syndicates through Crown’s relationship with private junket operators who sourced the company’s VIP clients from overseas.

The inquiry by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) is the culmination of years of media scrutiny, including a landmark Four Corners investigation in 2014 and a damning 60 Minutes piece last year.

Crown repeatedly denied allegations at the time, releasing a full-page newspaper statement in 2019 calling the media reports a smear campaign.

Ms Ryan said the VCGLR had failed to take regulatory action and had “become a lap dog, instead of a watchdog”.

The VCGLR yesterday said it welcomed the report and would “carefully examine” the findings and recommendations.

Victorian Government looking at ‘bespoke’ casino regulator

A sign saying 'Crown' on a building on a sunny day.
Mr Andrews says it is too early to say whether Crown should hold a licence in his state.(ABC News: Daniel Fermer)

The 2021 review of Crown’s licence, announced in December, will be overseen by a special commissioner, who has not yet been appointed.

“The Victorian Government has had 18 months of hearings from the Bergin inquiry,” Ms Ryan said.

“A lot of that evidence has been public and available to anybody. None of these findings from the inquiry yesterday are all that shocking. So we have to ask — why the Andrews Government has waited until now before even saying that it will consider the findings of that inquiry?”

Mr Andrews rejected assertions the Government and regulator had been toothless, given the time taken to bring the review forward and to appoint a special commissioner.

“What I do accept… is that it is our responsibility is to make sure that the only people who hold a casino licence in Victoria are of the highest quality and calibre, probity, and are accountable for all of their actions, and that is exactly what I intend to do,” he said.

One of the key recommendations of the review was the establishment of the Independent Casino Commission (ICC) to operate as an independent oversight body, with powers of a standing Royal Commission.

Mr Andrews said while he was not making any announcements today, “casino regulation may need its own bespoke authority… it’s something we’ve been giving some thought to for a while now”.

Crown operates under a special set of laws passed by the Victorian Parliament that may need to be changed to help reform the company’s governance — the lack of governance identified by the NSW probe.

Crown Resorts Limited announced on Wednesday morning that directors Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston had resigned.

It yesterday said it was considering the report and would implement the recommendations.

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