Crown refused to follow junket warnings

Crown refused to follow the Victorian gaming watchdog’s advice to increase scrutiny on its use of junket groups for fear of losing cashed-up clientele, a royal commission has heard.

The inquiry into whether Crown remains suitable to keep its licence for its Melbourne operations was on Tuesday told junket operators brought customers to the casino in exchange for a cut of their multi-million dollar losses.

Crown would be informed how much money the junkets had to play to with, but the groups’ individual players were afforded a level of “anonymity”, counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio SC told the second day of public hearings.

Mr Finanzio said this exposed Crown to the risk of money laundering.

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation in July 2018 recommended that Crown set up procedures to create more transparency around individual players’ financial contributions to junket groups.

But the one-year deadline to enact these changes, which Mr Finanzio described as “necessary and obvious”, passed without any substantive action taken.

Former Federal Court judge Raymond Finkelstein QC, who is overseeing the royal commission, asked VCGLR licence and management audit team head Jason Cremona why Crown resisted following the recommendation.

“I have views that if Crown were required to obtain information from junket players … that could be reason for them not to gamble at the Melbourne casino and look elsewhere,” Mr Cremona said.

After hearing this, Mr Finkelstein said: “It’s the only reason – I believe so, yes.”

Mr Cremona also said Crown threatened to call Victoria’s gaming minister after the VCGLR probed its lack of response to the recommendation in the 2018 licence review.

He told the hearing that by May 2019, less than two months out from the review’s deadline, “alarms bells were ringing fairly loudly”.

The VCGLR that month wrote to Crown, expressing these concerns, only for a representative from the gaming giant to reference calling Victoria’s gaming minister to “complain”.

Mr Cremona earlier told the hearing that he received no response from Crown until January 2019, when the James Packer-backed group said it had been discussing the matter with financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC.

But in a private meeting between AUSTRAC and the VCGLR in February 2019, it was revealed AUSTRAC discussions with Crown had been only “brief” and “potentially unrelated” to the anti-money laundering recommendation.

When asked by Mr Finkelstein “how many minutes” it would take to enact the review’s recommendation, Mr Cremona said “a small amount of time”.

The inquiry on Monday heard Crown lied to the VCGLR about what it knew of China’s foreign casino crackdown after its own staff were arrested overseas.

The regulator looked into the arrests of 19 Crown staff in China in 2016.

All were charged with gambling promotion offences, and remain the subject of an ongoing class action against Crown.

The royal commission was set up by the Andrews Labor government after a NSW inquiry found Crown unsuitable to run its newly built casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo.

That inquiry found Crown facilitated money laundering, partnered with junket operators with links to organised crime groups even after being made aware of these connections, and exposed staff to the risk of detention in China.

Other witnesses set to be questioned this week include Crown’s head of financial crime and money laundering reporting, Nick Stokes.

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