The NSW Government has questions to answer over the fast-tracked probity and licencing process for Crown’s Barangaroo Casino following revelations in the media of multiple links between Crown’s existing casino operations in Australia and Australian and overseas-based organised crime figures and entities.
Independent MLC and gambling reform advocate Justin Field said, “It beggars belief that while the AFP were investigating links between Crown junket operators and overseas organised crime gangs in late 2013 that the NSW Government was fast-tracking the casino licence probity process for Crown’s Barangaroo casino.”
Last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that they had obtained transcripts from an AFP interview in 2013 that revealed a Junket operator engaged by Crown had been hired by a Chinese based organised crime organisation “because of his contacts at Crown Casino”, “mutual trust,” and because laundering money through the casino was “easier than using a bank". The reporting indicated further investigations of similar arrangements since the licence approval.
The NSW Government announced a licence approval for Crown’s Barangaroo VIP Casino in November 2013 and the Crown ‘Gaming Facility Licence” and other agreements were finalised in July 2014.
The head of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) at the time of the approval, Mr Micheil Brodie, said the licence approval process took only three months, “which probably rates as one of the fastest assessments of a casino applicant in history". Media reports at the time indicated that the speed of the assessment was because the NSW Government directed ILGA to take into account the findings of an earlier probity check into Crown, which fast tracked the process.
As part of the approval process Crown agreed to pay a $100m licence fee at the time of licence approval and to pay at least $1bn in gaming taxes in the first 15 years of operation.
Mr Field said, “The Government has questions to answer about the casino licence approval.”
“Was the Government or ILGA aware of AFP investigations related to potential organised crime links to junket operators used by Crown?
“Why was the licence approval fast-tracked and did Government’s direction to ILGA to take into account earlier probity checks result in material information about organised crime links being disregarded?
“Did the commitment of an immediate $100m licence fee and more than a billion dollars in gambling taxes play a role in this direction to ILGA?”
As part of the approval process Crown entered into a separate formal agreement with the NSW Government - a VIP Management Agreement. This agreement provides grounds on which the agreement and licence between Crown and the NSW Government could be cancelled or suspended.
There is also provision to carry out a “suitability investigation” in the instance of a change of ownership of Crown.
The recent sale of a stake at Barangaroo by James Packer’s Crown Resorts to Melco has triggered a suitability investigation.
“The reports of systemic links between Crown to shady figures and organised crime gangs raises significant questions as to whether Crown is a suitable operator for a Casino. The current suitability investigation must be thorough and transparent and should reconsider the suitability of Crown itself,” Mr Field said.