Crown chair promises ‘root and branch’ overhaul, but no move on CEO

Crown Resorts chairman Helen Coonan has committed to a “root and branch” overhaul of the crisis-sicken casino giant but is yet to sack her chief executive Ken Barton despite the urging of NSW’s top gambling regulator.

NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority chair Philip Crawford said on Thursday morning that Mr Barton and high-profile director Andrew Demetriou should leave Crown if the company wants to open its $2.2 billion Sydney casino.

Both men were heavily criticised in former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin’s report into Crown released this week which found the James Packer-backed group was unfit to hold the licence for its new casino at Barangaroo.

Pressure is building on high-profile director Andrew Demetriou (pictured) and Crown Resorts’ chief executive Ken Barton to resign.
Pressure is building on high-profile director Andrew Demetriou (pictured) and Crown Resorts’ chief executive Ken Barton to resign.Credit:Getty Images

Shortly after those comments Ms Coonan made her first public response to the damning report, saying she accepted the criticism was warranted and repeated “our unreserved apologies for these shortcomings”.


“We do not underestimate the scale of the problem and appreciate there is a need for ‘root and branch’ change,” she said in a statement. “This change has commenced.”

But as of 1pm Thursday that had not extended to removing her CEO Mr Barton, who Commissioner Bergin found to be “no match for what is needed at the helm of a casino”, nor the former AFL boss Mr Demetriou, whose appearance at the public inquiry into Crown she called “unedifying”.

Two representatives of major shareholder James Packer resigned from Crown’s board on Wednesday after the report highlighted the billionaire’s harmful influence over the group as a key problem.

ILGA chair Mr Crawford said on Thursday that while he was encouraged by his engagement with Ms Coonan so far, “more people have got to go” from Crown including Mr Barton and Mr Demetriou.

“You can assume we’ll be talking to Ms Coonan about those matters fairly shortly,” he said in an interview on 2GB radio.

“When you read the report there’s a certain obviousness [about what needs to happen].”

Mr Crawford said there was no guarantee Crown would be able to make itself suitable and open the new casino. But under the deal signed by the NSW government and Crown to open Sydney’s second casino, the regulator was contractually bound to work with Crown to try and make it suitable.

“They haven’t operated in this state yet and they may never,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Crown was set to open the gaming floors at its new casino in late December but ILGA blocked it from doing so after evidence of money laundering at Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casino emerged from a public inquiry.

Mr Crawford also left the door open to ILGA moving to reduce Mr Packer’s 37 per cent shareholding, saying it was something the regulator’s board would discuss when it meets on Friday.

“The influence has already been diluted by his retreat from the board, that’s a really positive start,” he said.

“The other side of that is sometimes with these shareholder issues that there is a commercial outcome. It’s something we’re going to be looking at.”

The potential for Mr Packer to be found unsuitable to be involved in the Sydney casino has raised speculation he could finally sell his $2.4 billion stake in Crown following several failed attempts to exit the company in recent years.

Commissioner Bergin’s report – released on Tuesday following an explosive 18-month public inquiry – found that Crown had facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos, partnered with figures linked to organised crime, and disregarded the safety of staff in China before 19 were arrested there in 2016.

The inquiry was triggered by a series of reports by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes, which Mr Crawford said this week had been “totally vindicated”.

Business Briefing

Start the day with major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion from our leading business journalists delivered to your inbox. Sign up for the Herald‘s here and The Age‘s here.

Most Viewed in Business

Source: Thanks