Australia’s Crown Resorts is facing another lengthy inquiry after the Victorian Government announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into its suitability to hold a casino license for flagship property Crown Melbourne.
The Royal Commission, which provides the government with substantial powers to call witnesses and compel evidence by way of a public hearing, is Victoria’s response to the recent NSW Bergin Inquiry which uncovered broad failures in Crown’s governance – particularly around anti-money laundering controls – and a subsequent finding of unsuitability by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.
To be chaired by former Federal Court judge Raymond Finkelstein QC, the Royal Commission will supersede the seventh casino review of Crown Melbourne’s operations, which had already been brought forward by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) in response to the Bergin Inquiry’s findings.
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Victoria’s Minister for Liquor and Gaming Regulation, Melissa Horne, said the government viewed a Royal Commission as the most appropriate way forward.
“Following the Bergin Inquiry there were a number of significant issues that came out,” Horne said.
“We’ve gone through [the Bergin Report] line by line and have understood our commercial contracts (with Crown) and have taken legal advice as to what the most appropriate response is to those severe findings.
“The most appropriate response and one that will protect the Victorian interest the best is a Royal Commission.”
According to Horne, the Royal Commission will be fast-tracked with its findings to be reported as early as August and by no later than the end of the year. Crown Melbourne will continue to operate in the meantime “but within the context of the Royal Commission examining its suitability,” she added. “We need to work with the Royal Commission and see what those findings are.”
The Victorian Government also revealed Monday that it has commenced work to establish an independent casino regulator following a similar recommendation contained within the Bergin Report, with an independent review occurring in parallel with the Royal Commission to advise on the necessary structural and governance arrangements.
However, Horne rejected suggestions this was an admission that the VCGLR had neglected its duties by failing to detect AML irregularities at Crown Melbourne.
“Money laundering is by and large the remit of the federal government agency AUSTRAC,” she said. “The VCGLR had referred a number of things to AUSTRAC and really that is the jurisdiction of that federal government agency.”
In a statement issued shortly afterwards, Crown Executive Chairman Helen Coonan said, “Crown welcomes the announcement from the Victorian Government as it provides an opportunity to detail the reforms and changes to our business to deliver the highest standards of governance and compliance, and an organizational culture that meets community expectations.
“Victorians should be assured we recognize the responsibility placed on us by the community, governments and regulators and we will fully cooperate with the Royal Commission.”