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What we learned about Crown from the NSW inquiry

Money laundering

The Bergin inquiry examined numerous instances of suspected money laundering at Crown Melbourne, including the infamous “blue cooler bag” footage that showed huge bundles of $50 notes being exchanged for gambling chips in one of Crown’s VIP gaming rooms. The inquiry found that “clearly” money had been laundered at Crown Melbourne.

It also examined two Crown bank accounts used by patrons to deposit funds for gambling, with evidence Crown failed to act on information they were repeatedly used for money laundering. Red flags had been raised at Crown as far back at 2014 but the company did its best to keep the accounts open, even moving them to the Commonwealth Bank when ANZ shut them down over money laundering concerns.

Junkets

The inquiry also looked into Crown’s partnerships with “junket” tour operators who bring wealthy Chinese high-rollers to overseas casinos, many of which had clear links to organised crime gangs or “Triads”. Evidence presented to the inquiry showed that Crown resorts employees based in Macau even feared physical violence from associates of one of the casino junket partners. Crown has said it will no longer work with junkets.

The NSW inquiry found that money had been laundered at Crown Melbourne.

The NSW inquiry found that money had been laundered at Crown Melbourne.

China arrests

In 2016, Chinese police arrested 19 Crown staff in co-ordinated raids for illegally promoting gambling in that country. The NSW inquiry examined exactly what Crown knew about the dangers its staff were in. It found an email between two senior executives saying that Crown staff lived in “constant fear” of arrest, and that police had even questioned a Crown employee more than a year before the arrests on suspicion of promoting gambling. Despite this, Crown pushed ahead with its aggressive tactics in China.

Packer’s influence

Commissioner Bergin expressed significant concern about how James Packer, Crown’s 36 per cent shareholder, exercised the “real power” at Crown which had “disastrous consequences for the company”. It led to conflicts of interest, blurred reporting lines and dysfunctional corporate governance. Packer has ended his representation on Crown’s board, but the NSW regulator is still concerned about his influence over the company.

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‘Culture’

Commissioner Bergin ultimately found that Crown’s biggest problem was its culture: it had an “unjustified belief in itself”. When allegations were raised of things going wrong, it showed an “unwillingness to entertain the prospect” they might be true.

Crown’s executive chairman Helen Coonan said last week that she was setting a “cracking pace” at fixing the problems identified in the commissioner’s report. She said she hoped those reforms – including a massive clean-out of its board and management – would satisfy any concerns raised by WA and Victoria.

The risk for Crown now is that Victoria and WA’s investigations uncover new evidence, or make even harsher findings that jeopardise its existing casinos.

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