By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd should be stripped of its gaming license for its main Melbourne resort due to insufficient and insecure efforts to reform its culture and fight money laundering, an investigation heard on Tuesday.
The lawyer who led the investigation also expressed “little confidence” in the former Australian communications secretary who chaired the company, suggesting that it could take two years to become fit for gaming.
The recommendations after months of hearings must still be taken into account by the federal judge supervising the proceedings. If accepted, the 37% owned billionaire James Packer company would stop gambling at Melbourne City Casino, which makes three-quarters of its profits.
Crown, which is targeted by two takeover approaches, fell as much as 3% by the afternoon, outpacing a broader market decline.
“The business rebirth program underway, according to Crown, is inadequate and so uncertain that this commission concludes that there is a sufficiently clear path to fitness,” said Adrian Finanzio, who is from the state of Victoria with the A lawyer commissioned to lead the survey.
An earlier investigation into a newly built resort in Sydney valued at A $ 2.2 billion ($ 1.6 billion) found Crown ineligible for a gambling license in that city as of February, and “according to those listed in those hearings Evidence remains clear that Crown Melbourne is unable to “own a license now,” he added.
The Sydney investigation accused Crown of turning a blind eye to organized crime, allowing Packer inadequate control over decision-making and ignoring the safety of employees detained in China for violating that country’s anti-gambling laws.
Under new chairwoman Helen Coonan, Crown had proposed an “impressive reform program (but) according to the best estimates, the reform program will not be completed before the end of 2022,” Finanzio said at the hearing.
Crown did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Coonan, who became chairman in 2020 and was named executive chairman after the Sydney investigation led to her CEO’s departure, said she welcomed all inquiries and would fully support them.
Finanzio said Coonan must have been contributing to Crown’s corporate governance troubles since joining the board in 2011, shortly after she left the Australian government.
“Ms. Coonan’s record as Director of Crown Resorts makes it clear that her past inaction has contributed to the problems” and her actions since the Sydney investigation “gives little confidence that she is the right person to make the scale of the changes required to direct, “he said.
($ 1 = 1.3659 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Lincoln Feast.)