Crown retains NSW casino licence after regaining trust of regulator

Crown retains NSW casino licence after regaining trust of regulator

Photo: Crown Sydney, via Facebook.

Crown Resorts has regained the trust of the NSW regulator which today announced that it was suitable to hold a casino licence for its $2.2 billion Barangaroo property in Sydney.

The NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) says it has found Crown Sydney suitable to retain its licence after nearly three years of “intensive remediation”.

The NICC’s decision follows its Victorian counterpart, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC), announcing in March that it was “clearly satisfied” that Crown Melbourne is suitable to operate a casino.

It also comes mid-way through the NICC’s second review of rival The Star Entertainment Group’s (ASX: SGR) suitability to hold a casino licence, which today launched a intensive grilling of executive chairman David Foster.

The NICC’s chief commissioner Philip Crawford says Crown is a “vastly different” company than before the 2021 Bergin Inquiry into the Crown’s oversight of its anti-money laundering and responsible gaming responsibilities.

While it has “come a long way”, Crawford says Crown must now demonstrate its long-term commitment to maintaining suitability.

When asked about the changes during a media briefing this morning, Crawford confirmed that the days of “bags of cash” being exchanged for chips at Crown are over.

“The NICC is confident the Crown we deemed suitable today has a strong model to keep operating into the future,” says Crawford.

“The NICC’s suitability assessment established that Crown Sydney has fundamentally reformed its business and is operating the casino within the objects of the Act, the requirements of the suitability deed, and in compliance with its regulatory obligations.

“In addition to proving it can run the casino lawfully, Crown has remediated its business in other meaningful ways such as building a culture of transparency and accountability across its integrated resort.”

Craford says that despite the hard work involved in securing the group’s transformation, the NICC “has not forgotten the level of misconduct exposed in 2021 when Crown was found unsuitable”.

The NICC says Crown Sydney now must continue to lift its standards and maintain its cultural transformation.

“There is and will always be room for improvement, but Crown is a changed business that is looking toward the future,” says Crawfrod.

“Likewise, the NICC is a changed regulator with enhanced powers, a singular focus on casinos, and a mandate to address the risks of harm.”

The decision by the NICC today and the VGCCC in March ends more than two years of uncertainty for Crown, were triggered by the findings of the Finkelstein Royal Commission in Victoria in October 2021 that the then listed company was unsuitable to hold a casino licence.

The Royal Commission found that Crown Melbourne had breached its legal, social and moral obligations, resulting in illegal activities, tax avoidance, money laundering, criminal associations, and significant harm to vulnerable community members. The Bergin inquiry in NSW later backed up that finding.

Crown is still to regain suitability in Western Australia following the findings of a separate royal commission held in 2021.

While the WA authorities did not strip the casino group of its casino licence, Crown, which is now owned by private equity group Blackstone, was given two years from March 2022 to regain its suitability. A decision on suitability is yet to be announced.

Crown’s casino licence suitability for Sydney has been announced in the middle of a second inquiry by Adam Bell SC into The Star’s suitability following concerns by the NICC over the lack of progress for the company’s remediation plan.

Oversight of the remediation program by former CEO Robbie Cooke has been a central theme for the three-week inquiry which began on 15 April – almost two years after the original Bell inquiry was held to investigate claims that lax standards were exposing the casino group to money laundering activities and infiltration by organised crime.

The three-week inquiry has so far found the relationship between Cooke, who resigned as CEO on 22 March, with NICC-appointed special manager Nicholas Weeks amounted to a “state of war”.

Last week’s evidence exposed a dysfunctional relationship between The Star’s senior executives and the NSW casino regulator, which has emerged as a key reason behind the second Bell inquiry.

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