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Crown “unsuitable” for NSW licence, inquiry hears

The Crown Barangaroo tower under construction last year. Photo: Wikimedia/MDRX

By ALLISON HORE

Crown Casino is “unsuitable” to hold a license to run a casino in Sydney, the ongoing inquiry into the appropriateness of the NSW licence heard on Wednesday.

The lawyer running the inquiry into whether Crown should be allowed to operate the planned casino in their 75-floor Barangaroo tower, Counsel Assisting Adam Bell, today told the inquiry he believed Crown was “not suitable” to hold the licence.

In his closing statements, Mr. Bell said the evidence presented to the inquiry made a clear case against the licence being granted, which he said was “ultimately harmful to the public interest”.

“In summary, we submit that the evidence presented to this inquiry demonstrates that the licensee is not a suitable person to continue to give effect to the licence and that Crown Resorts is not a suitable person to be a close associate of the licensee,” he told the inquiry.

Last year a series of reports by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes exposed Crown’s junket partners, its failure to stop money laundering at its Perth and Melbourne casinos and how the casino group put its staff at risk of arrest in China where gambling is illegal. As a result, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority launched an inquiry to look into the revelations and how they affect the suitability of a NSW licence. 

During the course of the hearings, the inquiry heard allegations Crown encouraged staff to continue to work in China despite warnings from Beijing that it was cracking down on foreign casino agents. In 2016, sixteen Crown staff were jailed for breaching anti-gambling laws.

Mr. Bell said it was the influence of Crown’s main shareholder, James Packer, which led to the arrest of the staff. In its disregard to the safety of its staff in the interest of shareholder profit, Crown had demonstrated “disastrous failures” of management and governance, he said.

The fiery take down raises further questions about the $2.2 billion Barangaroo casino’s planned December opening. 

But late last month Crown chairman Helen Coonan confirmed while the inquiry was a “matter exercising everyone’s mind” the company was on track to move ahead with the December 14 opening. Optimistically, Crown is also continuing the process of recruiting staff for the gaming floor which could be shut down.

NSW Independent MP Justin Field told The Guardian it would be “highly inflammatory” for the casino to move ahead with its opening before a decision is made.

“It is clear from justice Bergin’s statements to date that the question as to whether or not Crown should retain a casino licence in NSW is an open one,” he said.

Following Mr. Bell’s statements today, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would seek “urgent and immediate” advice on the matter.

“I think, at the end of the day, we need to do what’s in the best interests of the citizens of our state,” she said.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin is expected to give her final decision on the licence early next year. The Crown may be stripped of its NSW casino licence or tough conditions may be imposed on it.

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