NSW gambling regulator greenlights Crown

The NSW gambling authority has given a conditional go-ahead for Crown to begin casino operations, saying it has cleaned up its act after an inquiry found it was unsuitable to hold a licence in the state.

Philip Crawford

The decision by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) on Wednesday came as the state government released a statement foreshadowing plans, first announced last year, to introduce legislation to establish a  new independent casino watchdog in NSW.

Legislation paving the way for the creation of the new body is expected to be introduced into parliament in August, a spokeswoman told Government News.

Gaming model ‘rebuilt’

ILGA Chairperson Philip Crawford says Crown has rebuilt its gaming model around “governance, anti-money laundering measures and corporate culture” and will be allowed to begin casino operations in NSW.

There had also been a complete clean-out of the board and senior executive, Mr Crawford said.

“After more than one year’s work with Crown, the Authority is pleased to have reached a stage where Crown can open its casino operations on a conditional basis.”

The Authority will consider approval of Crown’s suitability within 18 months two years.

The authority has also approved the suitability of private equity giant Blackstone to hold a casino licence in NSW. Having gained the other necessary approvals from Victorian and West Australian regulators and the Federal Court, Blackstone takes over as the new owner of Crown on Friday 24 June, Mr Crawford said.

Damning reports

ILGA’s approval comes after a series of inquiries and damning reports into Crown’s casino operations in Perth and Melbourne.

A Royal Commission report on Crown’s Perth casino, tabled on March 24, found the operator and its subsidiaries were not suitable to hold a licence.

In Victoria, a Royal Commission into Crown’s Melbourne casino found in October 2021 that the operator was unsuitable to hold a casino licence on the basis that it has engaged in conduct that was “illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative”.

That repot built on the findings of the Bergin Report , handed down in February 2021, which also declared Crown unfit to open its casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo.

Meanwhile, in March the financial crimes agency AUSTRAC launched legal action against Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth for alleged serious breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws.

“Crown is taking steps towards improving its systems, processes and resourcing however there is further work to do and AUSTRAC will continue to work closely with Crown to address ongoing compliance concerns,” AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose said.

NSW to beef up legislation

The proposed NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC)  is the centrepiece of a suite of reforms the government is introducing in response to Commissioner Patricia Bergin’s report, which recommended the creation of a “independent, dedicated, stand-alone, specialist” watchdog, with the powers of a standing royal commission.

The new NICC would have wide-ranging compliance and enforcement powers, racing and hospitality minister Kevin Andrews said.

“We are rebuilding the regulatory framework for casinos in NSW from the ground up with stringent new controls to prevent money laundering and other criminal activity,” he said.

It will be led by a dedicated chief commissioner and supported by up to four commissioners, including at least one with money laundering expertise.

The government will also establish a multi-agency committee to oversee and the NICC and coordinate collaboration with the police and Crime Commission.

Mr Crawford said the Bergin Inquiry highlighted the scale and scope of issues to be remediated by Crown, with potentially billions of dollars having been laundered through its casinos.

Tougher laws introduced in WA

Meanwhile, the WA government on Wednesday introduced legislation for an independent casino monitor to oversee “the remediation process” at Perth’s casino over the next two years.

“Greater integrity is not optional – the WA Government will have a new independent monitor and much higher penalties to ensure the highest standards are upheld,” Racing and Gaming minister Tony Buti said.

The legislation includes a provision for the WA Government to recoup costs for the independent monitor from Crown/the casino operator.

Special manager to oversee reform in Victoria

In Victoria, The Royal Commission found Crown was unsuitable to hold a casino licence on the basis that it has engaged in conduct that is “illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative”. But it nonetheless recommended that Crown be permitted to continue operating under the oversight and direction of a Special Manager for two years while it undertakes a program of reform.

In response, Victoria has passed new beefed up casino and gambling laws and  appointed former IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan as Special Manager with powers to oversee the company, veto decisions of the Board, and have access to all areas of the casino and its books and records.

The legislation also established a new regulator, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC), which commenced work on January 1.

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