Australia’s casino giants under threat

Explosive allegations surfaced this week about the role of Crown Resorts in laundering money and facilitating the illegal offshore activities of Chinese high rollers.

Crown’s ties to controversial VIP gambling junket organisers, including one of the world’s biggest drug traffickers, were asserted in a damning exposé by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Nine which could see executives hauled before a public inquiry.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”15046″ align=”left”]The report implicates the Victorian gaming regulator, Victoria Police, MPs and Department of Home Affairs officials in an alleged systematic failure to prevent corruption based around the group’s flagship Melbourne Casino.

WA gaming minister Paul Papalia has confirmed he is seeking advice from the state’s gambling regulator in regard to the group’s other venue in Perth, but says he doesn’t “have any concerns regarding the operation of the casino” at this stage.

Victoria’s government and regulators are accused of turning a blind eye to the casino giant’s partnerships with companies connected to suspected Chinese criminals.

In the last financial year, Crown paid $238 million in tax to the state of Victoria.

Federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie last week referred the Victorian gaming regulator (the VCLGR) and Victoria Police to the state’s anti-corruption commission for investigation.

And independent senator Jacqui Lambie has renewed calls for a national corruption watchdog in the wake of the claims saying: “Dirty money, dirty politics – no excuses anymore – we need a National ICAC and we need it now!”

In response to enquiries about its relationship with junket tour operators and gamblers, the casino giant stated: “Crown does not comment on its business operations with particular individuals or businesses”.

However, it said it had a “comprehensive” anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing program in place which was subject to regulatory supervision by financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC.

Billionaire James Packer, who has moved to distance himself in recent years from the company he previously chaired (although he remains a major shareholder) denies any knowledge of the company’s alleged operations.

In response to criticisms, the VCGLR pointed out it has twice taken action on Crown’s junket relationships over the past four years, imposing a $150,000 fine for failing to accurately record details and ordering Crown to cease its dealings with an unspecified junket operator.

But in a scathing 2017 report, the state Auditor-General found: “VCGLR is not able to demonstrate that its casino supervision is efficient or effective as is required for best-practice regulation of a major participant in Victoria’s gambling industry.”

He concluded: ““There is a need for VCGLR to improve its oversight of the casino.”

Star fails to shine

As Crown remains mired in controversy, its Sydney rival is facing significant hurdles of its own.

NSW Planning has recommended rejection of Star Entertainment Group’s $500 million hotel and casino expansion at Pyrmont.

The 66-storey, 200-room Ritz Carlton tower, a major addition to the existing casino and events centre, would have seen the brand re-established in Australia after its previous two Sydney incarnations closed a decade ago.

Alongside the hotel, the luxury development encompassed 200 high-end residences, a rooftop pool and some 15 bars and restaurants.

The recommendation comes a year after plans were lodged, the City of Sydney’s planning department concluding the proposal fails to align with surrounding buildings in height and form or “contribute positively to the skyline”.

The waterfront suburb is predominantly made up of low to medium-scale buildings despite being densely populated.

 “While numerous taller buildings are situated within Darling Harbour and Barangaroo, these form part of cohesive clusters of high-density buildings, associated with strategically identified precincts,” planning authorities said.

“The same context does not apply to the Star site.”

NSW planning minister Rob Stokes said the report was the result of “an exhaustive process” and the department’s assessment reflects widespread local opposition to the scale of the proposal.

Lord mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore welcomed the decision saying it has taken the community’s concerns into account.

The fate of the tower now rests with the Independent Planning Commission.

“We’re extremely disappointed with the recommendation,” a Star spokesperson said.

“Since first applying for the environmental assessment requirements four years ago, we have committed ourselves to design excellence and comprehensive community consultation.”

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