‘Corporate arrogance’: Crown Sydney is ‘not suitable’ to hold a casino licence, an inquiry has found

The Crown Sydney isn’t suitable to hold a casino licence, an inquiry has found.
  • The Bergin report has found that Crown Resorts is not suitable to “give effect to the Barangaroo restricted gaming licence” after money laundering revelations.
  • The 18-month inquiry cumulated in recommendations that the company board go under a restructure to give authorities confidence that further possible breaches of anti-money laundering legislation would not occur.
  • It also suggested regulators should have “very serious doubts” over three directors: CEO Ken Barton, former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, and Packer family friend Michael Johnson.
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An 18-month inquiry into Crown Casino has climaxed with a 1000-plus page report demanding sweeping changes at the gambling and entertainment company.

Tabled in New South Wales parliament on Tuesday, the report found that Crown’s Sydney operation isn’t a “suitable person to continue to give effect to the Barangaroo restricted gaming licence”.

Nor did it find that Crown Resorts was “suitable” to be a close associate of the licensee, three months after New South Wales gambling regulator blocked the $2.2 billion casino from opening.

The findings come after the Nine newspapers in conjunction with the Nine Network raised allegations in 2019 that “Crown Resorts or its agents, affiliates or subsidiaries engaged in money laundering, breached gambling laws, and partnered with junket operators with links to drugs traffickers, money launderers, human traffickers and organised crime groups”.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin, a former Supreme Court judge, found that Crown was unwilling to engage meaningfully with such allegations out of “corporate arrogance”.

“The Chairman rejected that epithet. However it is an apt description of some of the public responses to the Media Allegations and the lack of proper attention to the needs of the Company in light of them,” Bergin wrote.

However while some of report’s findings are damning, the Barangaroo Casino doesn’t appear to be doomed. The report goes on to lay out a list of recommendations on what needs to change at Crown for authorities to have confidence in its operations.

They include a restructuring of Crown’s board and the board of the licensee to provide proper governance over the company.

“Some observers may expect the Authority to require the purging of the whole Crown Board before it would be in a position to regard Crown as a “suitable” person under the Casino Control Act,” Bergin wrote.

“However such an approach would be inappropriate if there is an available realistic alternative to accommodate due regard to the commercial imperative of the viability of a public company whilst achieving such conversion.”

While some board members may be dismissed as part of the changes, James Packer won’t be. He resigned as director in 2018 as part of part of a campaign to scale down his corporate responsibilities, ostensibly for mental health reasons.

The executive change-up will be followed by accompanied by a “full and wide-ranging forensic audit … to ensure that the casino operations are free from criminal influence and exploitation.”

Three directors in the firing line

Bergin was scathing of many at Crown as part of the report – not least of whom was Crown CEO Ken Barton. Barton was found to have been made aware of money laundering issues as early as 2014 by ANZ, but rather than raise those concerns had solicited the bank to keep accounts open.

“[Barton is] no match for what is needed at the helm of a casino license” and that the NSW gaming regulator “would be justified in concluding that it cannot have any confidence in dealing with Mr Barton as a director of the Licensee or Crown,” she wrote.

So too did Crown director and former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou feel the wrath for his “unedifying appearance” at the inquiry’s public hearings, where he read from pre-prepared notes that he for a time denied even having.

“It is difficult to understand what might reasonably be made of this quite bizarre performance. Sadly the balance of Mr Demetriou’s evidence is affected by it. The Authority would be justified in lacking confidence in placing reliance upon Mr Demetriou in the future,” Bergin wrote.

Another director and close Packer family friend Michael Johnson copped it as well. Bergin wrote that his loyalties to James Packer and Packer’s private company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH) had muddled Crown’s overview of issues.

“The lines of reporting were blurred; risks were not properly identified; identified risks were not properly notified; conflicts or potential conflicts were not recognised; and the corporate needs of Crown were not given precedence over the corporate needs or desires of CPH.”

Bergin essentially called for all three to be dismissed, declaring that as long as all three remained as directors there were “very serious doubts” over Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence.

Responding to the findings on Tuesday, New South Wales Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello thanked Bergin for her work and said the report’s recommendations would now be considered.

“Among other things, the report raises serious issues relating to organised crime and money laundering in our community. We will consider its recommendations very carefully before providing a formal response in due course,” Dominello said.