The NSW gaming watchdog has called for two more Crown directors to resign from the embattled casino empire following the scathing findings of a year-long inquiry.
- Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chairman Philip Crawford says Crown directors Harold Mitchell and John Poynton should go
- Former Liberal Party leader John Hewson says the Crown deal with the NSW government “has got a stench about it”
- Mr Crawford says he would not hesitate to strip Crown of its casino licence if they do not fix the company culture and anti-money laundering systems
Four directors, including CEO Ken Barton, have so far quit in the aftermath of the final report of Commissioner Patricia Bergin, which was released publicly last week.
But in a candid interview with 7.30, the chairman of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority [ILGA] Philip Crawford said he did not think Crown had “blown itself up” enough yet and he expected more heads to roll.
“I’m in discussions with Helen Coonan regarding Harold Mitchell and Mr [John] Poynton,” he said.
“I would think that they both need to go.
“Our authority has a very strong view about what needs to change and to start with it’s personnel — people we can deal with and we have some confidence in.”
Both Mr Mitchell and Mr Poynton declined to comment.
The regulator said he would also be approaching James Packer’s company, Consolidated Press Holdings, in the next few days to discuss Commissioner Bergin’s findings about the billionaire.
“We need to talk about Mr Packer’s influence on the company,” Mr Crawford said.
‘They wouldn’t have the licence’
The NSW gaming regulator officially informed Crown this week that it was unfit to run a casino in Sydney.
But instead of being stripped of its licence, Crown has a chance to repair itself due to a deal struck with the NSW Government more than seven years ago.
Mr Crawford revealed to 7.30 that he would have stripped Crown Sydney of its casino licence by now if not for a “complex set of contractual arrangements” between the gambling giant and the state government.
“There is a requirement in certain circumstances we need to consult with them on certain matters of concern,” he explained.
“If not for these contractual arrangements the finding would have been they’re not suitable to hold a licence and they wouldn’t have the licence.
“We would have endorsed that. Absolutely.”
Instead, ILGA has no choice but to work with Crown as the company attempts to repair itself to win back its casino licence.
“Those contractual arrangements do not upend the finding that they’re unsuitable,” he said.
“But we are going to listen to them and see whether or not we think they can become suitable.”
‘Whole process has got a stench about it’
Former Liberal Party leader John Hewson said the fact the gaming regulator was “contractually obligated” to help Crown work towards keeping its licence was no surprise when the history of the project was taken into account.
“This was a deal that was done without tender,” he said.
“We don’t know the details of those contractual arrangements, but apparently they tied the hands of the regulator.
“This whole process, to my mind, has got a stench about it.”
Commissioner Patricia Bergin’s final report provides an insight into how Crown’s Barangaroo deal was done.
In February 2012, Mr Packer met with then NSW premier Barry O’Farrell over lunch at the home of media identity Alan Jones.
The billionaire pitched his vision to build a $1 billion-plus high-roller casino and hotel at Barangaroo.
Within months, Mr O’Farrell met with Mr Packer again to tell him about an “unsolicited proposal process” set up in 2009 to fast-track infrastructure development.
The premier advised Crown to use the process for the Barangaroo project.
In the same month, the NSW Government updated its unsolicited proposal process to “remove the requirement for an independent evaluation as to whether a project should be allowed to avoid a tender process”, Commissioner Bergin’s report explained.
By September 2012, Crown submitted its bid for Barangaroo and a casino licence ended up being granted without a public tender.
Both Jones and Mr O’Farrell declined 7.30’s interview requests. But Jones has previously insisted there was nothing untoward about that initial meeting between the premier and Mr Packer.
“Probably nothing untoward did happen in that case, I don’t know,“ Mr Hewson said.
“But that’s not the point.
“If somebody gets privileged access, if the rules get bent for some and not for others … I mean, it’s just been crook from the beginning.”
April deadline looming
Mr Crawford told 7.30 he did not feel constrained by the “contractual obligations” in place.
He said he would not hesitate to scrap Crown’s licence if they did not fix the company culture and tighten their anti-money laundering systems.
The most pressing deadline for Crown right now is the end of April, when the company’s liquor licences for its Barangaroo bars and restaurants expire.
By then, Mr Crawford wants to see a company reformed.
“They’ve got a lot to do, there is a lot for Helen Coonan to achieve to get to a point to where we’re comfortable about their suitability,” he said.
“Whether she’ll succeed I don’t know.
“And if we’re not satisfied as the authority then so be it and they will lose the licence.”