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Major parties grovelling to pokies: Wilkie

Australia’s major political parties have been accused of grovelling to the multi-billion dollar pokie industry amid money-laundering and machine rigging allegations against James Packer’s Crown casino.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie wants an independent probe into whistleblowers’ allegations Crown modified machines to boost gambling losses, ignored drug use and domestic violence, and allowed gamblers to get around money-laundering laws.

“That the Labor party and the Liberal party are both sidestepping the issue shows that they continue to grovel to the poker machine industry,” Mr Wilkie said on Thursday.

He has also written to the Australian Federal Police and wants a criminal investigation alongside an independent inquiry, while Crown fiercely denies the allegations.

“The serious allegations include money laundering, and that of course is a serious federal offence,” Mr Wilkie said.

Crown strongly denies the allegations and has urged Mr Wilkie to take any evidence to police.

Federal government frontbencher Mitch Fifield said any inquiry was a matter for Victoria, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the upper house was not a police force.

Crossbench Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens have indicated they will table a request for an independent inquiry in November.

NSW’s gambling watchdog says it’s closely monitoring developments in Victoria – where the state’s Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has started investigating the allegations – while Mr Packer prepares to open a $2 billion Crown hotel-casino in Sydney in 2021.

Mr Wilkie on Wednesday used parliamentary privilege to table a video containing the whistleblowers’ allegations against the gaming giant’s Melbourne operation.

Gamblers lost $1.55 billion at Crown’s Southbank casino in the 2016/17 financial year, while the casino paid $207 million in tax, the VCGLR’s annual report showed.

The report, released on Thursday, also revealed the regulator had failed to meet its annual metro venue inspection target.

This came after the whistleblowers said VCGLR’s oversight of Crown had been inadequate, a claim backed up by Victoria’s Auditor-General in February when it found the commission wasn’t focusing enough on serious risks at Crown.

“It’s the Victorian gambling regulator that stands accused of either complicity or incompetence,” Mr Wilkie said.

But the VCGLR, which has been ordered to conduct an investigation, says it’s taking the allegations levelled against Crown “extremely seriously”.

Victorian Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz was questioned in parliament about the VCGLR’s role investigating itself and Crown, but backed the commission.

“I’m unaware of any evidence about the commission being complicit,” she said.

Crown Resorts’ shares continued to slide amid the controversy, dropping 2.9 per cent to an eight month low of $10.92 by Thursday’s close.


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