The Victorian government will launch a royal commission into ASX-listed gambling giant Crown Resort’s South Bank casino operations in Melbourne.
The announcement follows a damning report released by the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) inquiry, which ruled Crown unfit to hold a casino licence at its newly-built Barangaroo complex.
The 18-month NSW inquiry, conducted by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, examined evidence of Crown enabling money laundering through its casinos, partnering with junket operators connected to criminal gangs and failing to protect staff arrested in China.
Bergin also found that former director James Packer was given special treatment—receiving privileged information through a controlling shareholder protocol agreement—despite quitting the board and cashing in $100 million worth of his shares in 2018.
Minister for gaming Melissa Horne said the royal commission, which will be chaired by former federal court judge Raymond Finkelstein QC, would establish the facts.
“The reports from New South Wales’ ILGA Inquiry were incredibly concerning, which is why we’re establishing a royal commission to get the answers we need about Crown Melbourne.
“We will not tolerate illegal behaviour in our gaming industry,” Horne said.
Later this year, the state government will legislate to enable the Victorian Gaming and Liquor Regulation Commission (VCGLR) to give effect to any findings of the royal commission.
The state is also establishing a review to examine whether Victoria should set up an independent casino regulator, separate from the VCGLR.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the probe was about making sure casino licence holders in Victoria upheld the highest standards of probity and integrity, “and that they’re accountable for their actions”.
The controversy has already forced Crown Resorts chief executive Ken Barton to step down after serving a decade with the company.
Director Harold Mitchell resigned shortly after the state government’s announcement on Monday.
Crown chairman Helen Coonan, who has taken over as executive chairman on an interim basis, welcomed the investigation.
“[The royal commission] provides an opportunity to detail the reforms and changes to our business to deliver the highest standards of governance and compliance, and an organisational culture that meets community expectations.
“Victorians should be assured we recognise the responsibility placed on us by the community, governments and regulators and we will fully cooperate with the royal commission,” Coonan said.
The royal commission and will hand down his recommendations by 1 August.
In NSW, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has also “commenced the consultation process” into whether Crown can reach suitability to hold its licence.
Crown is also facing an investigation with the powers of a royal commission in Perth, estimated to take about four months.