A royal commission into the suitability of Crown Perth to hold its casino license has been extended by four months.
The WA royal commission is the second Crown Resorts royal commission to take place this year, with a concurrent royal commission in Victoria assessing the casino giant's suitability to hold a casino license due to evidence it engaged in illegal conduct.
Both royal commissions follow an 18-month inquiry in NSW, conducted by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin and released on February 9, examining evidence that Crown enabled money laundering through its casinos, as well as a multitude of other offences.
Bergin also found that former director James Packer was given special treatment—receiving privileged information through a controlling shareholder protocol agreement—despite quitting the board and cashing in $100 million worth of his shares in 2018.
The WA government has now agreed to extend the deadline for the delivery of the Perth casino royal commission final report to March 4, 2022.
Premier Mark McGowan said the extension would provide commissioners with sufficient time to carry out their investigations and consider the findings of the Victorian royal commission.
Justice Owen, overseeing the proceedings in Perth, said that while the royal commission had delivered an interim report to the state government, it had not finished its investigation by the June 30 deadline.
“The decision to request an extension was not taken lightly; however, the preparatory work has revealed that the questions raised in the terms of reference involve more issues than we initially envisaged,” Owen said.
Counsel assisting Patricia Cahill said the commission would use this extension to look at Crown’s group of companies and its associates as well as alleged money laundering being facilitated by or through its Melbourne and Perth Casino operations.
Cahill said the commission was interested in understanding further Crown’s response to the arrest of staff in China in 2016, junket regulations and approach to harm minimisation—the risk of harm to casino patrons from gaming activity.
“The commission is interested in [further] exploring a number of matters,” Evans said.
“In relation to the licensee itself, there is a further inquiry required as to whether it is a suitable person to continue to hold the casino gaming licence for Perth Casino.
“A casino licensee is accountable to its regulator who is responsible for the oversight of the licensee's conduct of its casino gaming activities.”
Kanaga Dharmananda, representing Crown Resorts, said the company had undertaken significant work to address the “deficiencies” identified by the Bergin inquiry and Victorian royal commission into Crown, such as how it handled money laundering.
“Crown is responding appropriately as the objective of sustained scrutiny,” Dharmananda said.
“Crown has embarked upon a substantial reform agenda and some aspects of this 35 reform agenda were the subject of attention before the findings of the Bergin Inquiry were published.
“Many other parts of the reform program are well-advance and there will be evolution and betterment of the agenda over time.”
The change at Crown is taking place without one of its most recently departed board directors, John Poynton, who was also the chairman of Crown Perth and who resigned from his positions on both entities in March.
Poynton will be called as a witness as part of the next tranche of hearings before the commission on Wednesday.
Gaming and Wagering Commission (GWC) lawyer Paul Evans said the regulator would be closely watching the royal commission despite the GWC’s relationship between its staff and employees at Crown being under scrutiny in the inquiry.
“As evidence in the Melbourne royal commission has demonstrated recently, the 20 response of Crown Melbourne to the sixth review and the China arrests inquiry raises serious concerns in relation to its suitability to hold the casino licence in that jurisdiction,” Evans said.
“The extent to which that attitude and conduct manifests in that reflects on Crown Perth, similar concerns will arise in this jurisdiction.”
Upcoming witnesses for the inquiry include current Crown Perth chief executive Lonnie Bossi, former Australian resorts chief executive Barry Felstead, and the chair of Crown Resorts, Helen Coonan.