WA pursues royal commission into Crown

investigation into crown resorts
A government investigation in Western Australia into casino operator Crown Resorts has been upgraded from an inquiry into a royal commission.

Channel News Asia reports that the state government felt it needed to take the measure to ensure there were sufficient legal protections to investigate the casino operator.

The move means the company, one-third owned by billionaire James Packer, will face royal commissions in two Australian states simultaneously, just as it seeks to rebuild its management following a separate inquiry that saw its chief executive officer and a host of directors leave in the past month.

An inquiry into Crown’s plans to open a new casino in Sydney found it was unfit to hold a gambling licence due to allegations it dealt with junket tour operators linked to organised crime, failed to protect a dozen and a half staff jailed in China for breaking the country’s anti-gambling laws and had “dysfunctional” leadership dominated by Packer.

The states where Crown already has casinos quickly announced their own inquiries, with Victoria choosing a royal commission and WA picking a less powerful independent probe.

Before the upgrade to a royal commission, the WA inquiry had the powers of a royal commission, but the commissioner did “not have the immunities and protections afforded by the Royal Commissions Act”, the state’s Attorney General John Quigley said.

Royal commissions are Australia’s most powerful type of inquiry where investigators can compel witnesses to testify.

They typically end with a report that includes formal recommendations, which may include recommendations for referrals to law enforcement agencies.

Mr Quigley said the WA royal commission would be required to deliver its final report by November 14, making it longer than the Victorian inquiry, which runs to August.

High rollers banned from Crown Perth

High rollers at crown casino
A ban has been issued on all high roller activity at Crown Perth since February.

Asgam reports that the Western Australian Gaming and Wagering Commission has issued a direction to ban high roller gamblers at the venue, extending a previous junket ban.

Last Wednesday, Crown Resorts confirmed reports the ban was being considered, stating it had received directions from the regulator providing that Crown Perth cannot participate in the conduct of junkets, premium player activity or privileged player activity.

The conduct specifically includes “table games activity with patrons who are non-residents of Australia with whom Crown Perth has an arrangement to pay the patron a commission, or provide transport, accommodation, food, drink or entertainment, based on the patron’s turnover or otherwise calculated by reference to such play.”

The GWC’s new direction follows a formal call for an independent inquiry into Crown Resorts’ suitability to hold a casino licence for Crown Perth.

If approved, the inquiry would be established under the direction of the Minister for Racing, Gaming and Liquor with a brief to delve into matters uncovered by a similar inquiry conducted in NSW and outlined in a report by Commissioner Patricia Bergin, released in February.

The GWC had already promised to follow a recommendation contained in the report to ban all junket operations in NSW by doing the same in WA.

Crown is also facing a royal commission in Melbourne, home to its flagship casino, with the government announcing it expected the entire process to be complete within this year.

The ban, which seems to apply only to international premium players, is unlikely to have any short-term impact on Crown Perth’s operations given ravel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, although there could be some long-term impacts around potential plans the company may have had to implement a premium direct rather than junket model on the high-end play.

Crown said it would fully cooperate with any inquiry in WA, with executive chairman Helen Coonan stating: “Crown is determined to play a constructive role with all of its regulators as it works to restore public and regulatory confidence in its operations.”

William Brown

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