Crown Resorts Warns Victorian State About Potential Suitability Findings

The Crown Resorts Board of Directors is warning officials in Victoria, Australia, to tread lightly regarding the outcome of the state’s inquiry into the casino company.

Crown Resorts casino Victoria inquiry NSW
Crown Resorts casino Victoria inquiry NSW
Helen Coonan, chair of the Crown Resorts board, appears before the casino inquiry in New South Wales in October of 2020. She is urging a separate review, this one in Victoria, to allow the company to retain its casino privileges in Melbourne. (Image: The Guardian)

Victoria launched its Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and License of Crown Resorts in February. It came after an inquiry in New South Wales concluded that Crown was unsuitable to hold a casino license in the state. That’s because of the company’s alleged shortcomings in preventing money laundering, links to organized crime in Asia, and billionaire James Packer’s untoward influence over the board. 

As a result, Crown’s $1.6 billion Crown Sydney integrated resort and luxury residential complex opened last year without its planned casino. The probe in Victoria is being led by Commissioner Royal Finkelstein, who said recently regarding Crown that he sees “evidence of misconduct or unacceptable behavior from people high-up and low-down and in-between.”

In a letter to Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne from the Crown board, and approved by Executive Chairwoman Helen Coonan, the Aussie casino group says it’s not in the state’s best interest to hurt Crown Resorts and its casino operations at Crown Melbourne. 

A royal commission is the most powerful type of public hearing in Australia. 

Crown Rejects Interference Claim

Crown Resorts says that if Finkelstein and Victoria deem the company unsuitable to continue operating Crown Melbourne, the impact will be harmful to the public. Finkelstein criticized Crown for what he believes is an attempt to interfere in the review.

It [the letter] seems to have one unstated purpose, which is to avoid a particular finding that the commission might make,” Finkelstein declared. “It seems, on its face, plain old ordinary English language, to mean, ‘Make sure that the commission doesn’t make a particular finding.’”

Noonan says that was not the letter’s intent. 

“What we were trying to do is to have the government aware of the fact that if and when you make a decision that has this effect, it’s a huge problem for the government, too,” Noon argued. “If there was the finding that is contemplated here, there are quite catastrophic circumstances that have implications for the government, and presumably they might be able to do something about it.”

Noonan Admits Division

Adding to the Crown Resorts scandal is Noonan revealing this week that the board was previously split on how to handle the NSW inquiry. 

Noonan, who became chair of the board in early 2020, says she called for CEO Ken Barton’s dismissal during the NSW inquiry. She said she believed it would show the state that Crown was committed to changing its culture.

“I was overruled,” Noonan told the Victorian royal commission today. “You still need to have numbers on a board, even if you’re the chair.”

Barton eventually resigned following the NSW unsuitability verdict issued in February of this year. Coonan revealed to the Victorian inquiry that she, too, will be departing Crown later this year.

Finkelstein, in addressing new Crown CEO Steve McCann, said he believes one solution is to break up the Aussie casino giant into separate divisions. 

“When this casino was set up, it was a Victorian casino, Victorian run, Victorian operated, with Victoria’s economic and social interests as its principal objective. That’s the model agreed between the government and the casino.”

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