Crown Melbourne bosses step down

Crown Melbourne bosses step down

By Brendan Rees

Crown Melbourne’s CEO Xavier Walsh and Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan will stand down by August 20 – just weeks after a Royal Commission heard the casino giant was not suitable to hold a casino licence. 

The departures comes as the state government announced it would set up a new gaming regulator focused solely on holding Melbourne’s Crown Resorts to account.  

The new commission was revealed by Gaming and Liquor Regulation Minister Melissa Horne on August 3, which was also the final day of hearings into Crown Melbourne’s operations.

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) will regulate all gaming in the state and be guided by the independent review into casino regulation, led by regulatory and public policy reform expert Deborah Cope.

Ms Horne said unethical practices in the gambling industry would not “be tolerated” with the new agency to provide “robust regulation of the Melbourne casino and wider gambling activity across the state” as well as a focus on gambling harm minimisation.

Last month, counsel assisting the royal commission, Adrian Finanzio SC, told the inquiry in his closing submissions that Crown was not suitable to hold a Victorian casino licence, saying it had “failed woefully to adequately address key risks of money laundering at the casino”.

“We submit as follows: as at 1 February 2021, when the Bergin Report [a NSW Casino inquiry tabled at NSW Parliament this year] was published, Crown Melbourne was not a suitable licensee,” he said. 

“In all the circumstances, it is counsel assisting’s submission that it would be open for the Commission to recommend that the licence be cancelled. That is not a submission made lightly. It is made cognisant of the consequences that such a finding would, in all likelihood, be highly disruptive to many people.”

He continued, “At present, that is right now, Crown is not at a level of readiness to combat money laundering at a level which is to be expected of the operator of a casino as sophisticated as Crown. It is, according to its own evidence, at only an early stage of maturity.”

“The evidence reveals serious misconduct, illegal conduct and highly inappropriate conduct which has been encouraged or facilitated by a culture which has consistently put profit before all other considerations.”

Mr Finanzio said Mr Walsh and Crown Resorts chair Ms Coonan “cannot be the credible faces of the change required at Crown if it is to remain the licensee”.

He said the evidence in the hearings “has brought into serious question the judgment and integrity” of Mr Walsh “in a number of respects”. 

Crown Resorts confirmed Mr Walsh “will remain available to assist the company until his employment at Crown ends on December 9, 2021,” and an interim CEO for Crown Melbourne will be announced following consultation with the VCGLR. 

Hearings into the Royal Commission began in February, led by former federal court judge and senior barrister Raymond Finkelstein QC, with his recommendations initially set to be handed down by August 1.

However, in June the state government granted a request to have the Royal Commission extended to October 15 to allow additional time and funding to complete its work.

Mr Finkelstein is investigating the corporate culture of Crown Melbourne, gambling harm minimisation, and allegations it underpaid hundreds of millions in casino tax •

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