CASINOS operator Crown Resorts (ASX: CWN) has accused independent MP Andrew Wilkie of making "outrageous and unfounded" allegations about poker machine tampering and money laundering at its Melbourne Crown Casino.
Crown Resorts chairman John Alexander also called on Wilkie to provide information on the alleged illegal activity and urged him to "stop his political games", while the newly-returned James Packer called the MP a liar.
"As I have stated previously, I am angered and disappointed by the outrageous and unfounded allegations levelled at us by Mr Wilkie, which unfairly smeared Crown by asserting that we have acted improperly in relation to our gaming machines and operations," Alexander said at Crown's AGM.
"We emphatically reject these allegations."
"Andrew Wilkie throws something into the parliament which is a lie," Packer told shareholders.
CWN shares suffered a major share slide last week after Wilkie alleged Melbourne's Crown Casino deliberately tampered with poker machines and turned a blind eye to drug use and violence.
Using parliamentary privilege, Wilkie produced a video in which anonymous whistleblowers accused the casino of "shaving down" the buttons on poker machines to allow for illegal continuous play. This means that people can wedge paper into the 'play' button so the machine keeps turning over without additional presses.
It was also alleged punters were given guitar picks by staff to keep machines spinning and that when inspectors from Victoria's gambling watchdog saw the buttons were disabled, they ordered them to be fixed but did not take further action.
The evidence also included allegations from three former Crown Melbourne staff that they were told to remove betting options from pokies and to regularly reset machines' memory to lower returns.
"Mr Wilkie's inferences and commentary are deeply offensive to Crown, our board of directors and our employees. This is amplified by the fact that these allegations have been made by anonymous persons and Mr Wilkie has admitted that he does not know whether there is any substance to them," Alexander says.
"As you would all appreciate, Crown operates in one of the most highly regulated and supervised industries in Australia, involving multiple government agencies and State law enforcement bodies. We have a sophisticated anti-money laundering program and we take compliance with AUSTRAC requirements very seriously.
"We also do not improperly manipulate our gaming machines. Any employee found breaching our codes and practices would face severe disciplinary consequences."
Alexander repeated his call for Wilkie to produce the evidence that he referred to in parliament.
"I again urge Mr Wilkie, if he believes he has evidence of wrongdoing, to stop the political games and immediately provide any information he has in his possession directly to the relevant authorities.
"Unless and until he does so, no purpose is served by further discussion of his allegations. We will of course work closely, and co-operate fully, with any inquiries by authorities."
Alexander also welcomed billionaire James Packer back onto the Crown board which he rejoined in January this year. Packer stepped off the board in 2015, prompting critics to question his commitment to the business. Packer ignored questions from reporters as he arrived at the AGM in Melbourne.
The billionaire told shareholders that the detention of 19 Crown Resorts employees in China was behind the company's change in strategy from a global to an Australian focus.
"That forced the Crown directors' hand in a large degree in relation to Macau," Packer says.
Crown began selling its interests in its joint-venture casinos in Macau in December 2016, two months after the first detention of the company's employees in China.
In a trading update, the company revealed that its high roller returns at its Melbourne casino had exceeded expectations in the first quarter of the 2018 financial year.
Crown also reported that for the period July 1 to October 22, 2017, revenue from main floor gaming (excluding VIP play) was slightly up on the prior corresponding period, along with its non-gaming revenue.
Alexander also told shareholders at the AGM that Crown had no comment on the detention and subsequent release of employees who were detained in China.
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