The Star braces for Bell inquiry findings

The Star Entertainment Group’s shares have been suspended on the ASX amid growing expectations a highly anticipated regulatory report will find the company is unfit to hold a casino licence.

The Sydney and Brisbane casino operator requested a trading halt on the ASX on Monday, ahead of the release of a report by Adam Bell, SC, which followed a lengthy public inquiry into the company. The Bell report was handed to the NSW government at the beginning of this month after 36 online hearings and testimonies from more than 30 witnesses.

The Star’s Sydney casino.Credit:Edwina Pickles

The Australian reported that the Bell inquiry would recommend The Star was unfit to hold a casino licence in NSW unless it overhauls its board and compliance department.

In a statement to the ASX on Monday The Star said it had not “received a copy of the [Bell] report, is unaware of its contents, but understands the report is to be released soon”.

The Star will resume trading on the ASX on Wednesday, or when the Bell report is released to the public.

Industry sources familiar with the contents of the report told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that The Star will be found unfit to hold a gaming licence in NSW. The report is expected to be released on Tuesday.

The public inquiry was launched after a 2021 investigation by the Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes alleged The Star enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, large-scale fraud and foreign interference in its Australian casinos for years, even though its board was warned its anti-money-laundering controls were failing.

Alleged money laundering, criminal infiltration and fraud took centre stage during the inquiry, which led to the resignations of Star executives, including former boss Matt Bekier.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Naomi Sharp, SC, closed her submissions in June arguing that Star Entertainment Group and its close associates were not suitable for a casino licence.

The casino’s board, she said, was only grasping the extent of its “unsuitable associations and uncontrolled money laundering risks” because of the revealing public review.

In 2021, a review into The Star’s casino rival Crown Resorts stripped it of its Barangaroo licence following another investigation by this masthead and 60 Minutes. In June, Crown was granted a conditional licence to operate until December 2023 after being bought by private equity giant Blackstone.

The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority was replaced by the NSW Independent Casino Commission this month.

The commission will have unprecedented powers to monitor casino activities and act against operators who engage in misconduct, targeting money laundering and other criminal activity.

Under new laws, casinos face fines of up to $100 million and senior executives and board members will be personally liable for wrongdoing they know about, but fail to stop.

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