NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is seeking advice about whether she should ask James Packer’s Crown Resorts to delay opening in its new Sydney casino after a public inquiry was told it is unfit to keep its casino licence.
Counsel assisting Adam Bell, SC, told the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry into Crown on Wednesday that the group was not a “suitable person” to hold the licence to its new $2.2 billion casino at Barangaroo, which is due to open in December.
“We submit that the evidence presented to this inquiry demonstrates that the licensee is not a suitable person to continue to give affect to the licence and that Crown Resorts is not a suitable person to be a close associate of the licensee,” Mr Bell told Commissioner Patricia Bergin at the start of his final submissions to the inquiry.
Mr Bell said one of key reasons for Crown’s unsuitability was the influence of the billionaire major shareholder Mr Packer over the company, in comments that also cast a shadow over the future of Crown’s casinos in Melbourne and Perth.
The inquiry, which has the same powers as a royal commission, has also examined whether Crown’s NSW licence was violated when Mr Packer’s private company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH) agreed to sell a 19.9 per cent stake in Crown to Hong Kong’s Melco Resorts for $1.7 billion last year.
Mr Bell said a “common theme” across both the China arrests and the Melco transaction was the “deleterious impact on the governance of Crown Resorts caused by its dominant shareholder, CPH and ultimately Mr Packer”.
“It’s submitted that the impact of that influence put Crown Resorts in breach of its regulatory agreements with the authority. The adverse impact of CPH in compromising proper reporting lines of Crown Resorts was a factor leading to the China arrests,” Mr Bell said.
“In those instances the adverse impact of CPH and Mr Packer, we submit, was ultimately harmful to the public interest, which is a primary object of the Casino Control Act to protect.”
While a commissioner in an inquiry such as this does not necessarily accept counsels assisting’s submissions, they can give a strong indication of the final findings.
Commissioner Bergin must report back to ILGA by February 1, with the gambling authority then making the ultimate decision about whether Crown should keep its licence.
Under its terms of reference, if the inquiry finds Crown unsuitable it must also report on what changes – if any – the company can make to become suitable.
The inquiry’s counsels assisting will make final submissions for several days, followed by submissions from CPH and Crown.
Crown’s plan to open its Barangaroo casino in the middle of next month while the inquiry is ongoing has been controversial, and raised speculation ILGA may intervene and suspend its licence until Commissioner Bergin has handed down her findings.
If Crown is not fit and proper to hold a casino licence in NSW, how can Crown be trusted to run a casino anywhere in Australia?Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie
Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, a gambling industry critic who has worked with whistleblowers to expose some of the evidence examined in the inquiry, said Victoria and Western Australia should suspend Crown’s casino licences immediately.
“If Crown is not fit and proper to hold a casino licence in NSW, how can Crown be trusted to run a casino anywhere in Australia?” Mr Wilkie said.
“The evidence used to recommend against the NSW licence was based on how Crown currently runs Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth.”
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation issued Crown with a “show cause” notice last month over its dealings with “junket” tour operators linked to organised crime. The Victorian regulator has said it is watching the NSW inquiry closely and will act if necessary on any new evidence that comes to light.
Source: Thanks smh.com