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Crown inquiry must look at whole casino business model

That issue is important but the Herald suggests that this is a historic opportunity to look more broadly at how the casino industry is regulated. Justice Bergin should cast her net widely and ask whether Crown and rival Star Entertainment’s heavy reliance on international high-rollers can ever be clean without meaningful changes to current rules.

This should be within the ILGA’s remit given it says the current inquiry will have regard to its mission of keeping casinos “free from criminal influence or exploitation”.

Reports in the Herald and elsewhere over the past two weeks raise serious questions about whether Crown or Star, owner of Sydney’s first casino, comply with that standard.
For example, a known Sydney money launderer deposited more than $400,000 into a Star-linked account in 2012. The money was then transferred to the chief executive of Sun City, which operates as one of Star’s agents bringing Chinese gamblers to Sydney. The transaction was one of several issues that convinced the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the territory’s gambling regulator, to ban Sun City from involvement in gambling.

The Herald has also reported that Crown’s junket partners have included an international criminal fugitive known as ‘‘Mr Chinatown’’ who is wanted by Interpol; the boss of a brothel that was allegedly implicated in sex trafficking; a business whose CEO has been denied entry into Australia; and three high-roller operators with deep links to triad organised crime gangs. Given this, the inquiry should examine the relationship between our casinos and the offshore junket companies.

The risk is that some junket companies are used on occasion to either launder dirty money or hide transactions in breach of China’s rules that prevent the sending of money offshore.
The Herald has, for instance, found certain junket companies are paid by high-rollers and then in turn provide their clients with cash for gambling here. Such an arrangement could easily obscure the true source of the funds.

The junket companies may also be a way of shielding Australian casinos from the risk of breaking the ban on the marketing of gambling in China. In 2017, China arrested and fined 19 Crown employees for breaking those laws.

The inquiry should also set itself the task of assessing whether the current system of state-based regulation of casinos is adequate to prevent transnational crime. It is critical state licensing regulators in NSW, Victoria and WA, state police and federal agencies such as Austrac, which monitors international cash transfers, share information effectively.

The inquiry will be under a lot of pressure to come to a decision quickly. Crown and Star are major employers and the inquiry could have a significant impact on their operations. Both pay enormous licence fees to the NSW state government and this has given them huge political clout. The government inquiry must however resist any lobbying behind the scenes.

Well-regulated casinos can be a valid way of improving Sydney’s nightlife and attracting international visitors. Yet this should not spoil a unique opportunity to expose to scrutiny a troubled industry. The inquiry should sit until its work is finished.

  • The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here

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