Crown pushing ‘profit at all costs’ if it opens casino before inquiry findings: former regulator


A former head of NSW’s gambling watchdog says Crown has no alternative but to postpone next month’s opening of its new Sydney casino after an inquiry investigating the gambling giant this week heard it was not fit to hold a casino licence.

Chris Sidoti, the chairman of the NSW gambling regulator from 2008 to 2016, told 7.30 Crown should not open its Barangaroo casino until the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) inquiry hands down its findings in February.

“It would be a provocative act,” he said.

“It’s an act of bad faith to proceed with that opening when this inquiry is nearing its end.

“I would see it as an indicator that there’s been no significant change in the culture … a culture of the pursuit of profit at all costs.”

The inquiry, headed by Commissioner Patricia Bergin, is examining whether Crown should keep its casino licence in NSW following allegations that the company turned a blind eye to money laundering, went into business with junket operators with links to Asian organised crime and put the safety of its staff in China at risk.

In their final submissions this week, counsel assisting the inquiry said the evidence showed Crown was not suitable to hold a casino licence in NSW and its billionaire shareholder James Packer should be banned from being closely involved with the new Sydney casino.

Chris Sidoti.
Chris Sidoti says he and other regulators should have been more diligent.(ABC News: Alison Branley)

Mr Sidoti told 7.30 the evidence presented at the inquiry had been “extremely surprising”.

“I suspect that this will be a wake-up call for regulators in Australia that they — and retrospectively I include myself in this — need to be far more diligent.”

Former Liberal leader calls for NSW Government intervention

Former federal Liberal leader John Hewson told 7.30 the NSW Government should intervene and stop Crown from opening in Sydney ahead of the inquiry’s findings.

“This has been a very controversial licence from the beginning,” Mr Hewson said.

“For the process to have been initiated without a proper public tender and a competitive process, favoured treatment to Packer and his team.

“It’s time for somebody to stand up and say what they think is right here.”

A picture of a large, incomplete building at sunset.
Crown’s $2.2 billion casino in Sydney has been in the pipeline for years.(Reuters: Stephen Coates)

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday said she was seeking urgent advice from ILGA on whether the opening should proceed.

7.30 understands ILGA is taking legal advice on what, if anything, it can do to intervene.

But Mr Sidoti told 7.30 it was ultimately Crown’s responsibility to make the call.

“I don’t think the authority can act without some kind of recommendation from the Commissioner and the Commissioner is entitled to wait until the beginning of February, that’s her deadline,” he said.

“Crown is a privileged corporation in this country and that places a higher obligation on it, beyond even legal obligations towards the broader community.

“I think it’s a breach of those kinds of community responsibilities for it to proceed to opening in Sydney next month while Commissioner Bergin is completing her report.

“It raises further issues about governance.

“The corporation is lacking in self awareness.”

Crown did not respond to 7.30’s question about whether it was appropriate to open the new casino in December.



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