Crown’s record $80m fine a “bit rough” after changes to law: former Melbourne councillor

Brendan Rees

A former City of Melbourne councillor and anti-gambling activist believes a record $80 million fine imposed on Crown Melbourne was “a bit rough” given recent changes to the law saw the maximum fine jump from $1 million.

The newly formed Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) used its powers for the first time to fine the casino giant over a scheme that allowed the illegal transfer of funds from China that was exposed by the Royal Commission.

The conduct saw foreign punters access $164 million, with Crown deriving an estimated revenue of more than $32 million between 2012 and 2016.

VGCCC chairperson Fran Thorn said while Crown had been cooperative during the disciplinary hearings, the fine was appropriate because of the seriousness of its conduct.

“Crown’s CUP (China Union Pay) process was a clandestine, deliberate process, which not only breached the Casino Control Act but was also devised to assist patrons to breach China’s foreign currency exchange restrictions,” Ms Thorn said.

Stephen Mayne, a Crown shareholder activist, and former City of Melbourne councillor who served on the council from 2012-16, said while Crown “got off too lightly with zero civil or criminal charges to be launched by ASIC or any other regulators”, he believed the fine was “excessive”.

“I’m fine with Crown Melbourne being fined hundreds of millions of dollars overall,” he said, but added, “It does seem a bit rough on Crown Melbourne that the government can pass laws in 2021 which increased the maximum fine from $1 million to $100 million and then retrospectively apply an $80 million fine for offences that occurred up to a decade ago and only generated $32 million in profit.”

However, Mr Mayne said the current board and management of Crown Resorts “doesn’t seem to care too much because the fine will effectively be paid by Blackstone,” the world’s largest private equity firm, which has announced an $8.9 billion takeover of Crown Resorts.

 

The Crown strategy is just to keep apologising and cop whatever comes their way, and their brand has been so badly damaged by the various scandals that they still haven’t been allowed to open their Sydney casino 18 months after it was ready to welcome gamblers.

 

However, Mr Mayne, now a City of Manningham councillor, said if record fines “keep stacking up” to the point that Blackstone walked away, it would be “bad news” for Crown’s 60,000 shareholders, particularly billionaire James Packer who is “patiently waiting for Blackstone’s $3.3 billion payment for his 37 per cent stake.”

The chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Rev. Tim Costello, said the fine was “absolutely appropriate” and a vindication of the VGCCC “strengthening its powers”.

“The state capture of the regulator over many years has meant Crown has effectively done what it likes with only the prospect of a pitiful $1m fine as punishment,” he said.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Crown found the casino guilty of “disgraceful conduct” and recommended it be stripped of its licence if it could not prove it had reformed itself by 2023. •

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