Royal Commission “didn’t go hard” enough on Crown
By Brendan Rees
A former City of Melbourne councillor believes the operations of Crown Melbourne should have been “curtailed more aggressively” after a Royal Commission advised against stripping its licence.
It comes as a final report from Victoria’s Commissioner Ray Finkelstein on Crown, released last month, recommended Crown be given two years to reform itself despite finding the casino giant had engaged in “illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative” conduct.
After considering the potential “harm” to the Victorian economy and “innocent third parties”, Mr Finkelstein made 33 recommendations in his report including the appointment of Stephen O’Bryan QC as a “special manager” who would oversee all aspects of the casino’s operations and “keep a watchful eye on the progress of reform”.
The state government accepted the Royal Commission’s findings including increasing the maximum penalty for breaches of casino rules which currently stands at $1 million, however, the government said it would increase this figure to $100 million.
Stephen Mayne, a Crown shareholder activist and former City of Melbourne councillor who served on the council from 2012-16, said he was “a little surprised” the Royal Commission “didn’t go harder” after the final report revealed there was an “alarming catalogue of wrongdoing”.
He believed the appointment of a special manager would “lead to a decision-making paralysis; you won’t see any aggressive management or aggressive marketing for a period”, due to the company being on a two-year “good behaviour bond”.
Asked by Southbank News if he believed Crown could mend its ways, Mr Mayne said “at the end of the day Melbourne is stuck with one of the world’s biggest casinos in the heart of the city – you can’t move it away”.
“I personally think it would’ve been much better to reduce the number of poker machines and table games and to manage down the annual pokies revenue to maybe a billion dollars a year rather than the peak of $1.86 billion a year, it’s just too big and too hard to manage.”
But he said the “most important” recommendation was for gaming billionaire and Crown major shareholder James Packer to reduce his stake in Crown from 37 per cent to five per cent.
Mr Mayne also added the proposed move to cashless play and carded play would also be of “national significance and could potentially drive many gamblers into the pubs and clubs of the suburbs and away from Crown” if implemented.
But he believed the state government should have acted more “aggressively” to “manage down the size of the gambling operation in the heart of Melbourne”.
“It did get too big to fail and too big to regulate and it’s all blown up spectacularly. It should be really curtailed more aggressively than it has been,” he said.
In a statement, the government said the “onus will be on Crown to clearly demonstrate why its licence should not be cancelled by the regulator, based on the report of a new special manager to be established”.
Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Minister Melissa Horne said the government was taking immediate action to hold Crown to account and restore the public’s trust in the casino operator.
“Since receiving the final report from the Royal Commission, we’ve prioritised the most urgent actions to ensure we have a casino operator that upholds the highest standards of integrity and honesty,” she said.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform’s chief advocate, Reverend Tim Costello said it was “clear from the damning findings that Crown has been unfit to operate a casino for quite some time”.
“This is a vindication of what we’ve been saying for years; that these Casinos are enabling and profiting from organised crime that has caused extensive harm to the Victorian community,” he said.
Bad Bets Australia spokesman Rohan Wenn said the decision to allow Crown two years to reform itself “will be terrible for the local community”.
“Every day people will continue to suffer with Crown still operating,” he said. “I’m doubtful Crown will ever reform itself.”
The outcome of the Royal Commission has also cast further doubt over any plans for development at the One Queensbridge site where the casino giant once proposed to build the nation’s tallest skyscraper.
According to Mr Mayne, he believed the site opposite Crown wouldn’t be sold and “certainly won’t get built as long as Packer is there”.
“There will be no movement on that before the next state election but probably more like three to five years,” he said •