A former gaming minister says Victoria has been humiliated by revelations of money laundering at Crown Melbourne via a NSW public inquiry into the casino group, and the state needs a stronger gambling watchdog to ensure it does not happen again.
Tony Robinson, who was gaming minister in John Brumby’s Labor government from 2007 to 2010, said he hoped Victoria was “never again in a position where untoward things are happening under our very noses and it takes an interstate regulator to blow the whistle”.
“That’s highly embarrassing to the state of Victoria,” he said.
Victoria’s gaming minister Melissa Horne announced on Wednesday night she would bring forward the five-yearly review of Crown’s casino licence, which was not expected until 2023, following months of damning evidence uncovered at the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry into Crown.
The probe into the James Packer-backed group’s licence for its new Sydney casino this year uncovered evidence of money laundering at Crown Melbourne and in associated bank accounts; examined partnerships with “junket” tour operators linked to organised crime and exposed the risks it took doing business in China before 19 staff were arrested there in 2016.
Mr Robinson said the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation’s (VCGLR) last review of Crown’s licence in 2018 failed to thoroughly investigate a wide range of claims about that group.
After accepting too many “dog ate my homework” excuses from Crown two years ago, Mr Robinson said the VCGLR now needed to demand more information from the group and conduct more robust and regular probes into its operations.
“I think they’ve had a huge wake-up call,” he said. “They have to instill a culture in the regulator…. [where] you have to constantly look for those thing you’re not being told.”
Mr Robinson said Victoria should match all recommendations that come out of the NSW inquiry and also enforce a period of direct supervision by the VCGLR over Crown’s management.
“The dereliction of the senior management and board in respect to the money laundering side of things was gob-smacking,” he said. “I don’t know that you could simply take Crown’s word that ‘yes, we’ve learnt something we promise not to do it again’.”
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam on Thursday welcomed the move to bring forward the VCGLR’s review but said Crown’s licence should be suspended while the investigation is carried out.
“It is outrageous that Crown has been allowed to engage in behaviour like this,” Ms Ratnam said.
“For years the state government has turned a blind eye to Crown, while our regulator has been utterly ineffectual.”
Evidence of how Crown allowed criminals to launder money through its bank accounts prompted the NSW regulator to delay the company from commencing gaming operations at its new $2.2 billion casino at Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct, which was set to open this week.
ILGA said it would not make a decision on Crown Sydney until after Commissioner Patricia Bergin hands down her recommendations, which are due by February 1 and could include a finding that Crown is unfit to hold a licence.
However, Crown’s Southbank casino in Melbourne has reopened its gaming floors following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, with a capacity limit of 50 per cent across the facility.
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Source: Thanks smh.com