Beleaguered gaming group Crown Resorts has been dealt another blow with the Victorian state government announcing it will fast track a review of its gaming license by two years.
This will be the seventh review of the casino operator by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), which was originally slated for 2023.
In recent months, the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has uncovered alarming management issues (between Chairman James Packer and the executive team), as well as major money-laundering issues.
It follows a joint investigation by Nine media alleging Crown turned a blind eye to money-laundering at Crown’s Melbourne and Perth properties, and the exploitation of Australia’s visa system to fast-track visas for Chinese high-rollers.
“This review is needed given the evidence we’ve seen come out of the NSW inquiry,” Victoria’s Gaming Minister Melissa Horne said.
“We’re making sure Crown Melbourne conducts its business in a transparent and appropriate manner,” she told reporters.
A dedicated commissioner will be appointed to run the Victorian-based review next year.
There is scepticism however over the ability of the Victorian gaming authority to properly scrutinise Crown after it signed off on its gaming license in 2018, while money-laundering was already taking place at its casinos.
“Crown could not have done what is has done if the regulator were doing its job. The VCGLR is part of the problem, and it’s concerning the review will be conducted under its umbrella. We need to be careful this is not another whitewash,” Independent Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie said in a statement.
“The Victorian Government has been running a protection racket, and it beggars belief that it’s taken an inquiry in another state, a Tasmanian MP, and the media to finally bust Crown open,” he said.
“The Victorian Government was clearly pushed to the point where it could obfuscate no more,” he added.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has said: “It would be my hope that some of the issues that have been raised can be accounted for and we can have confidence that … Crown Casino is run to the highest standards.”
“We’re all entitled to that reassurance. But that’s not a matter for me, that’s a matter for the independent regulator,” Andrews told reporters on Thursday.
A temporary liquor licence was granted to Crown on Wednesday allowing it to operate its hotel, restaurants, and bars at its new landmark Barangaroo property. However, its gaming facilities will not be allowed to open.