Update June 11, 2021: The government of Victoria has approved more time and money for the royal commission’s investigation into Crown Resorts. The deadline for the completion of the inquiry is now October 15 rather than August 1, while funding has increased from AU$10m (US$7.75m) to AU$19.75m (US$15.31m).
Another blow to Crown
Australia-based casino operator Crown Resorts has found itself in the public eye for all the wrong reasons once again. A royal commission in Victoria, Southeastern Australia, has brought to light failings in the company’s responsible gambling procedures.
The commission is currently investigating Crown in order to judge whether the operator is suitable to hold a casino license in Victoria. As part of this process, the commission heard evidence this week regarding responsible gambling at the Crown Melbourne casino.
an example of the most irresponsible approach to gambling.”
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Adrian Finanzio, described Crown’s policies as “an example of the most irresponsible approach to gambling.” The failings included allowing gamblers to play video gambling machines for 18 hours straight without intervention.
The Victoria commission decided to investigate Crown after a New South Wales (NSW) inquiry deemed the operator unfit to hold a license for its new Sydney casino earlier this year.
Allowed to gamble for hours
As part of the investigation into Crown’s Victoria operations, officials completed an external review of the operator’s Melbourne casino. The royal commission heard evidence from that review on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
As reported by WA Today, officials told the commission that casino patrons went on gambling binges in the casino without any staff intervention. In 2019 for instance, one gambler played for a total of 34 hours before staff asked him to take an eight-hour break. This was in direct transgression of Crown’s responsible gambling policy, which at the time required gamblers to take a 24-hour break from playing.
staff would only usually approach gamblers after 12 hours if they showed any visible signs of distress
Last year, the operator reduced the amount of time its gamblers could play without intervention from 18 hours to 12 hours. However, an adviser explained that staff would only typically approach gamblers after 12 hours if they showed any visible signs of distress. Crown general manager of responsible gambling Sonja Bauer conceded that this was not best practice based on available research.
The inquiry also heard that Crown Melbourne has only 12 responsible gambling advisers working at any time during the day. Those workers are tasked with monitoring an estimated 64,000 visitors per day – a system which commissioner Raymond Finkelstein said would achieve “next to nothing.”
Too little too late?
Speaking on Tuesday, Bauer admitted that Crown could no longer claim to be a “world leader” in responsible gambling following the review. The company has reportedly confirmed, though, that it intends to overhaul its responsible gambling procedures in a last ditch effort to prevent the commission’s intervention.
Crown wrote to the commission last Thursday claiming that it would make a “suite of changes” to its measures to fall in line with expectations. Despite that, Finanzio believes this is all too little too late.
“The letter promises to stop things which, on one view, should never have been happening in the first place,” he told the commission this week.
The latest in the Crown saga
Crown lost its Sydney license earlier this year after a NSW inquiry uncovered instances of money laundering at the operator’s casinos. This has so far prevented the company, majority-owned by business mogul James Packer, from opening the gaming floor on its new AU$2.2bn (US$1.7bn) Barangaroo property.
In an attempt to regain this license, Crown has since agreed to end junket operations and introduce cashless gaming at its casinos to counter money laundering issues. The operator has also confirmed it will pay AU$12.5m (US$9.7m) toward the cost of the inquiry and ban all indoor smoking at its properties.
Blackstone upped its initial bid by AU$360m (US$278.2m) to AU$8.36bn (US$6.58bn)
As a result of concerns over Packer’s ownership of Crown, various parties have made bids to buy out his shares. Oaktree Capital Management, Star Entertainment, and Blackstone Group have all put offers forward this year. Blackstone recently upped its initial bid by AU$360m (US$278.2m) to AU$8.36bn (US$6.58bn).