Casino operations that account for more than half of The Star Entertainment Group's (ASX: SGR) annual profit will be placed under the microscope starting next month after the Queensland Government announced an independent external review into its dealings.
To be led by eminent former judge The Honourable Robert Gotterson AO, the review will probe The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane on similar matters covered in the Bell Review into Star Sydney, including but not limited to anti-money laundering practices, facilitating the use of China UnionPay cards for gambling to allow Chinese nationals to subvert their country's currency controls, and the management of VIPs and high rollers.
The review will also examine the casinos' approaches to gambling harm minimisation, as well as the management of exclusions, in particular those patrons excluded from The Star Sydney at the direction of the NSW Police Commissioner, and whether patrons excluded by NSW Police were actively encouraged or incentivised to attend Star Group’s Queensland casinos.
The news comes around a month after the Queensland Government announced tougher gambling laws with penalties of up to $50 million for wrongdoing - a figure that is half that of existing and proposed regulations in Victoria and WA respectively.
The announcement also comes at a time when there is a much more Queensland-heavy leadership at a group that has traditionally had most of its managers in Sydney. The Star's acting CEO Geoff Hogg is also the company's chief casino for Queensland operations, and has been an active participant in the Sunshine State's business community since joining the company in 2008.
Just this week the group announced Robbie Cooke, who went to high school and university in Brisbane where he held CEO roles at Wotif.com and Tatts Group, would soon be leaving his managing director role at Tyro Payments (ASX: TYR) to take charge at Star.
It is a company that is at the heart of an altered skyline in Brisbane for anyone passing the CBD on the Riverside Expressway, where constructions can be seen for the Queen’s Wharf Brisbane development where The Star, Brisbane is due to open in 2023.
The state's Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman says the inquiry into the operations of The Star Gold Coast and the Treasury casinos will have all the powers, authorities, rights, privileges, protection and jurisdiction of a commission of inquiry.
"There have been serious allegations made, along with a number of public inquiries and regulator investigations over recent years,” she said.
“Given the weight of evidence that has emerged regarding the operations of The Star Sydney and the shared governance and operational arrangements of Star Group entities more broadly, it is important the inquiry can seek information from anyone it sees fit.
“His Honour will be able to conduct interviews, and direct questioning of Star employees or other relevant persons should he consider it necessary, as well as review the evidence and the findings of the Bell Review and ongoing Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulations’ investigations."
Fentiman said the State Government was determined that Queensland casinos are operated lawfully, ethically and in a way that maintains the highest standards of integrity and public confidence.
"Former justice Robert Gotterson AO will bring a wealth of judicial experience to the role. His Honour served on both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal before retiring in 2019,” the Attorney said.
His Honour will be assisted by Jonathan Horton QC.
“Mr Horton specialises in public and regulatory law and has a depth of experience in the area of Inquiries and Reviews, including conducting a review of The Star Casino's licence under the Casino Control Act 1992 (NSW) in 2016.”
The Attorney-General said in addition to the review the Government was investing more than $4 million extra over the next four years into ensuring casinos are operated lawfully.
“This funding will pay for additional specialist audit resources dedicated to monitoring casino compliance. This will complement existing onsite casino inspection resources, providing more comprehensive regulatory oversight,” she said.
“Changes to the Casino Control and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 are already before the Queensland Parliament as we move to strengthen the casino regulatory framework.
“This includes increased penalties (maximum $50 million), self-reporting obligations and the ability for myself, as the Minister, to direct a casino operator to engage an approved qualified expert to inquire into and report on any matter relevant to the conduct of casino operations.”
In the terms of reference for the review, the Queensland Government expressed concerns over revelations from the Bell review in NSW.
"Evidence presented during public hearings raises significant concerns regarding the operations of The Star Sydney and given the shared governance and operational arrangements, the conduct of Star Group entities more broadly," the terms of reference state.
"The inquiry will broadly examine whether the casinos operate in a way that is consistent with achieving the objectives of the Act. Without limiting the scope, the inquiry is not required to inquire into particular matters that have been sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by the Bell review.
"The Review will provide advice relevant to the Attorney-General’s considerations about the ongoing suitability of Star Group licensees to hold a casino licence and the Star Group to be associated with the operation of a casino under the Act."
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