Australia’s Star Entertainment Group has defended a recent decision to award its executives bonuses worth a combined AU$1.4 million (US$997,000) at the same time it has been pocketing government wage subsidies aimed at assisting staff members negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chairman John O’Neill addressed the issue at Star’s Annual General Meeting on Thursday, insisting the company had passed payments totalling $64.8 million (US$46 million) from the government JobKeeper program directly to employees and that executive bonuses were not connected to the subsidies.
His comments follow criticism from some media outlets last month, most notably of the decision to award Managing Director and CEO Matt Bekier deferred shares worth almost AU$830,000 (US$591,000). Even with those shares, Bekier’s salary package of AU$2.3 million (US$1.6 million) for the 2020 financial year was down from AU$3.3 million (US$2.3 million) in 2019 and AU$4.4 million (US$3.1 million) in 2018.
“For FY2020, The Star passed on JobKeeper payments of AU$64.8 million to eligible employees,” O’Neill said Thursday.
“Every dollar was used for the purpose the Government intended. 85% flowed directly to team members who were stood down or working reduced hours. The remainder was used to return team members to their roles; an option that otherwise would not have been viable.
“There was no connection between JobKeeper and bonuses. Bonuses in FY2020 were equity incentives, not cash. They were new issue shares.
“Apart from the strategic achievements outlined earlier, there was also consideration given to retaining key talent as we prepare for a competitive casino landscape in Sydney.”
Star’s casinos in Sydney and Queensland reopened in July following a three-month closure due to COVID-19, however The Star Sydney remains under stricter health and safety restrictions than its Queensland counterparts.
Providing a trading update at the AGM, Bekier said group-wide domestic gaming revenue was back to 75% of 2019 levels with its Queensland casinos on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane “broadly in line with the prior period, notwithstanding the spatial distancing requirements and reduced trading hours that are currently in place.
“Sydney continues to be impacted by the more onerous constraints on the operations of the property, including a cap on the number of patrons in an area and no co-mingling between areas.”