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Barangaroo licence scrutiny ‘inadequate, superficial’: former regulator

Crown Resorts’ controversial Barangaroo casino faced “inadequate” and “superficial” parliamentary scrutiny before being approved, according to the former head of NSW’s gambling regulator.  

Chris Sidoti, who was chairman of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority for eight years to January 2016, has used an interview with ABC’s Four Corners to criticise the lack of a full public inquiry before James Packer’s Crown was granted the Barangaroo licence. 

Crown Resorts earnings report

Crown Resorts reports a drop in revenue and a half year net profit fall of 9.6 per cent.

“There was no public tender process and there was no inquiry at any stage, a public inquiry, as to the public benefit involved in this,” Mr Sidoti, who was the regulator at the time, told Four Corners.

“I don’t think there was an appetite for thorough scrutiny. I think there was a wish simply to get the job done in terms of having some basic level of examination and doing the deal.”

Then-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell insisted at the time the casino would be a “VIP-only” facility when opened in 2021, with Crown gearing the development towards rich Chinese gamblers. 

But that market has dried up following the arrest of 18 Crown staff in co-ordinated raids across China in October. Fourteen, including three Australians, remain behind bars over “gambling crimes”. 

It is illegal to promote or organise gambling activities on mainland China, and the October raids came amid a broader anti-corruption blitz against money laundering and illegal international money transfers. 

Crown’s earings from “VIP” gamblers fell 47 per cent at its Melbourne casino and 39 per cent in Perth in the last six months of 2016, following the China arrests, the company revealed in its half-year results last month

Crown executive chair John Alexander said the collapse in the important Chinese market would not affect planning for the Barangaroo casino, which would be “very attractive to the local market, the local VIP market”. 

Mr Sidoti also told Four Corners that Crown’s Australian casino licences should be reviewed if any of its staff detained in China were convicted.

He said a conviction would “place an authority like a regulatory body in Australia on notice and require further inquires to be made”. Action by regulators could range from a caution to licences being revoked, Mr Sidoti said. 

However, Mr Sidoti told Four Corners evidence used in Chinese prosecutions could be unreliable. 

Crown has casino licences for its Melbourne and Perth gambling and hospitality complexes and in Sydney. 

Australian Jason O’Connor, head of Crown’s international VIP program and the highest ranking employee to be arrested, remains behind bars along with compatriots Jerry Xuan and Pan Dan. 

China had signalled the crackdown before the Crown swoop, with 13 South Korean casino employees arrested in 2015.  

Crown Resort’s share price was hammered following the October arrests, with $1.3 billion slashed from its market capitalisation as the stock plummeted 14 per cent in a day.

Crown has been contacted for comment. 

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