Victoria has called a royal commission into Crown, and is threatening to take away its Melbourne casino licence

(Joe Armao, SMH)
  • Crown Melbourne will face a Victorian royal commission, the Daniel Andrews government has announced.
  • “This is a royal commission to determine whether they are fit to hold that [Melbourne] licence,” the Premier said on Tuesday.
  • It marks the third inquiry into Crown’s gambling operations, with five directors so far having departed the organisation in the space of two weeks.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Crown empire risks forfeiting the gaming licence to its flagship Melbourne operation as it proceeds to face a third inquiry.

On Monday afternoon, the Victorian government announced it would launch a state royal commission into Crown Melbourne, just weeks after the New South Wales gambling regulator found its brand new $2.2 billion Sydney casino wasn’t fit to be licensed.

“This is a royal commission to determine whether they are fit to hold that [Melbourne] licence,” Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

“You have to be clear that you’ll implement the findings [of the inquiry]. It’s going to be a rigorous process.”

It marks the third formal investigation into the $6.9 billion entertainment giant, with the published New South Wales findings triggering a West Australian inquiry into its Perth casino, the last of the Australian triumvirate.

All can be eventually traced back to revelations produced by the Nine newspapers, in conjunction with 60 Minutes, which raised alleged links to crime syndicates and money laundering.

However, while Andrews may talk tough on the Crown inquiry now, it is unclear what would happen if it lost its licence to operate its gaming operations in Melbourne, given its status as the state’s largest private employer, with 12,500 Victorians on the payroll.

“Playing blackjack [is] not everybody’s cup of tea, but as an employer, and as a precinct, it makes possible … [a] lot of economic activity,” he said on Tuesday.

“This needs to be done properly and we are determined to do that.”

Directors walk the plank

The announcement on Monday was met with the departure of another director Harold Mitchell, marking the fifth to fall on their sword in a single fortnight.

He follows CEO Ken Barton out the door, after the Crown boss was found by the New South Wales inquiry to be “no match for what is need at the helm”.

They join former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, Packer associates Michael Johnson and Guy Jalland, as well as company secretary and general counsel Mary Manos, in looking for a new job.

There may be further heads to roll yet. A cloud remains over a sixth director, John Poyton, who is seeking to resolve an apparent conflict of interest between his positions with Crown and his relationship with James Packer’s private company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH), with which he has since relinquished consultancy work.

While Poyton has made clear his intention to stay, he may not be given much of a choice. Speaking to the ABC’s 7:30 program on Friday, chairman of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority [ILGA] Philip Crawford had suggested that for Crown Sydney’s licence to be reinstated, the regulator would require more blood.

“I’m in discussions with [executive chair] Helen Coonan regarding Harold Mitchell and Mr [John] Poynton…I would think that they both need to go,” Crawford said, noting Packer’s influence in the company would also need to be addressed.

“Our authority has a very strong view about what needs to change and to start with its personnel — people we can deal with and we have some confidence in.”

With Mitchell now gone, the writing may well be on the wall for Poynton.