Crown asks royal commission for ‘trust’ to run Melbourne casino

Former judge compares company’s submission to that of a car thief asking to be simply let off on trust alone

Last modified on Tue 3 Aug 2021 00.57 EDT

The former judge tasked with deciding whether Crown Resorts should be allowed to keep its licence to run the Melbourne casino has compared Crown’s position to that of a car thief asking to be let off on trust alone.

The former federal court judge Ray Finkelstein, who is running a royal commission into Crown in Melbourne, on Tuesday heard submissions from counsel for the company, Michael Borsky QC as to why it should be allowed to keep its licence.

The counsel assisting the commission, Adrian Finanzio, told Finkelstein he should recommend to the government that the company lose its licence.

Borsky said Crown had admitted to and apologised for wrongdoing exposed at both this inquiry and an earlier one in NSW, which includes dodging tens of millions in state taxes and failing to prevent money laundering by customers, that made it unsuitable to hold a licence, but had committed itself to cleaning up its act.

But Finkelstein said options put forward by Borsky for a monitor to be appointed to oversee Crown’s running of the casino were “risk free” for the company.

“You’d pay unpaid taxes, pay a few costs, but you don’t actually suffer any consequence, that is you can commit wrong for a decade, of various kinds, and come along and say, ‘Well, we’ve fixed it, so don’t worry about it,’” he said.

“If I was a car thief, and went to the criminal court and said, ‘I’m not going to steal a car again, don’t worry about it, take my word for it,’ and they just let me go – it’s really not how the system works, is it?

“Not only is it not how the system works, it’s not what the public expects.”

Finkelstein said because Crown Melbourne was profitable he did not accept that the 12,500 jobs at the casino, the state’s biggest single-site employer, would be at risk if the state government cancelled its licence.

“The choice might be between you running the casino or someone else running the casino,” he said. “If it is a profitable business, the way industry works is that someone will always step in.”

Borsky also said Crown’s executive chair, Helen Coonan, would be quitting before the end of the month and no findings should be made against her or the Melbourne chief executive, Xavier Walsh.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Crown said Walsh would be leaving the company and the Victorian government announced that a new authority with a casino regulation department would be set up to address criticism of the failure of the existing authority to tackle longstanding wrongdoing at Crown Melbourne.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Crown said Walsh would be ceasing to act as Melbourne CEO on 20 August but “will remain available to assist the company until his employment at Crown ends on 9 December 2021”.

Walsh has served in the role for less than a year after he was appointed in December 2020.

“Crown will announce an interim appointment for the role of CEO Crown Melbourne following consultation with the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation,” the company said.

The Victorian government said it plans to split the VCGLR in two, in a move that stops short of setting up a stand-alone regulator solely responsible for the troubled Melbourne casino.

Melissa Horne, the state’s gaming minister, said the new Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission would have a dedicated division dealing with Crown that would “hold the casino to account”.

“That is the advice that we received,” she said. “There is very few jurisdictions in the world that have dedicated casino regulators.”

The move would involve “undoing the failed experiment of the past” that put liquor and gaming regulation together in the same body and the new body would have a “focus on harm minimisation”.

In a statement, the VCGLR said it would “continue to deliver high quality regulation of the gaming and liquor industries without disruption to regulatory activity as the new regulator is established”.

Finkelstein is due to report the royal commission’s findings on 15 October.

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