Victoria is growing increasingly isolated in its tepid response to evidence that organised crime syndicates infiltrated Crown Melbourne and used the casino’s bank accounts to launder drug money, after Western Australia launched an independent review of the group’s casino licence.
The WA government on Wednesday ordered an inquiry with royal commission powers to review the James Packer-backed group’s Perth casino licence as well as the effectiveness of the state’s gambling watchdog and laws, a week after the long-running NSW Bergin Inquiry ruled Crown was unfit to operate its yet-to-open Sydney casino.
The NSW inquiry found that Crown’s Melbourne casino had been infiltrated by money launderers and criminals. Credit:Scott McNaughton
The move is in contrast to the Andrews government’s response to the evidence of Crown’s criminal infiltration, first aired by The Age in 2019, which has been to bring its five-yearly licence review by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) forward by two years.
The government announced the fast-tracked review two months ago but is yet to appoint a sessional commissioner to conduct the probe. Victoria’s Minister for Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Melissa Horne, said in response to questions that the government was “getting additional advice on the most appropriate response regarding Crown in a Victorian context and will have more to say soon”.
Charles Livingstone, a gambling regulation expert and academic at Monash University, said the VCGLR’s periodic review had none of the powers given to investigations in NSW and WA.
“It can’t compel witness, it can’t investigate the system of regulation, it can’t recommend changes to the system of regulation… and it can’t recommend changes to itself,” Dr Livingstone said.
“If the government was serious, it would appoint an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission – which is what Commissioner Bergin suggested regulators should have – and that inquiry should also look at the role of the VCGLR.”
The state opposition says Daniel Andrews, pictured here with Crown’s largest shareholder James Packer in 2012, is sweeping the Bergin Inquiry findings “under a rug”. Credit:Jesse Marlow
The NSW inquiry conducted by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin recommended sweeping changes to that state’s gambling regime including establishing a dedicated casino watchdog, leading to calls for Victoria to follow suit.
Victorian opposition gambling spokeswoman Steph Ryan said Premier Daniel Andrews, a former gaming minister, was “sweeping all of this under the rug” and running a “protection racket” for Crown.
“There’s a huge disparity between what other states are doing and what Victoria is doing,” Ms Ryan said. “Victorians are very rightly asking why Daniel Andrews will not investigate Crown or take any meaningful action.”
Crown has significant political sway in Victoria owing to its status as the state’s largest single-site employer, with around 12,000 staff and contractors working at the Southbank complex pre-COVID, while paying the state government $238 million in tax in 2019.
The state opposition is preparing to put a motion in the upper house proposing a bipartisan committee to examine the findings of the Bergin Inquiry, “with respect to the existing Crown Casino licence in Victoria and for casino regulation more generally in Victoria”.
Gambling minister Melissa Horne said the government was getting advice on how to respond to the Bergin Inquiry’s findings. Credit:Justin McManus
The inquiry could compel Crown representatives to give evidence and deliver a report and recommendations in December. The opposition, which holds 11 out of 40 seats in the upper house, already has the support of a Greens MP, Reason Party MP Fiona Patton, Transport Matters MP Rod Barton, Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick, Clifford Hayes from Sustainable Australia and independent Catherine Cumming.
The opposition would need three additional crossbenchers to pass the motion. Five upper house MPs said they were either yet to see the wording of the motion or yet to consider it in detail.
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