10/05/2021 - 15:30

Crown inquiry grills Ord

10/05/2021 - 15:30

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The Perth Casino Royal Commission has heard suggestions Western Australia lacks a coherent policy on the gaming sector and that regulators lacked training and expertise.

Crown inquiry grills Ord
A royal commission into Crown Perth has heard evidence from WA's gaming regulator. Photo: David Henry

The Perth Casino Royal Commission has heard suggestions Western Australia lacks a coherent policy on the gaming sector and that regulators lacked training and expertise.

The first witness to appear before the inquiry was Duncan Ord, who is director general of the Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries.

In that capacity, he is also chair of the Gaming and Wagering Commission of Western Australia.

He was questioned at length by Fiona Seaward from the State Solicitors Office, who sought to establish whether the GWC had adequate people and funding to fulfil its regulatory functions.

Mr Ord, whose professional background is primarily in the arts sector, said he was well equipped to deal with principles of regulation.

He agreed the regulation of casinos was complex and very technical and acknowledged he and other members of the GWC had not undertaken any special training.

Mr Ord said he read widely and obtained briefings from departmental staff.

In his submission, Mr Ord said an that having an independent chair on the GWC would be an advantage.

“I do see the merit of that,” Mr Ord said in response to questions.

He also acknowledged that more legal regulatory experience and forensic accounting skills would be helpful.

Mr Ord noted that casino regulation had become more complex over the years, as Perth’s casino was now owned by a national company, Crown Resorts, and gaming was more international.

He was asked about the role played by the state’s former chief casino officer Mark Connolly, who stepped down from that role in February 2021 after media reported he was a friend of senior regulatory staff at Crown Perth.

“Mr Connolly was very distressed, understandably so,” Mr Ord said today.

“He said it would be difficult to undertake his duties while under such duress.”

Mr Ord said the two men agreed Mr Connolly should step down as they also “wanted to show we were ensuring the integrity of the commission”.

Mr Connolly continues to hold his substantive role as deputy DG of the department but does not work in that position.

Instead, he is working on a special project regarding a register of banned drinkers in the Kimberley.

The role of chief casino officer is currently filled by Mark Beecroft, who is also leading the preparation of responses to the royal commission.

Mr Ord said he saw those roles as intertwined.

He noted that two senior people had moved into the department to help cover the extra work associated with the royal commission.

The department has 75 staff in its racing, gaming and liquor regulation unit, with 33 of those having a significant amount of their work on casino regulation.

At the start of hearings, senior counsel assisting Patricia Cahill said the initial focus on the inquiry would be on the framework of regulation in WA.

She gave a brief history of gaming regulation in WA, noting there was a wide-ranging inquiry into gambling in WA in 1974.

That was a time when Perth had several small casinos in Northbridge that were officially illegal but were tolerated by police and other authorities.

The 1974 inquiry discussed the pros and cons of establishing a casino in WA and recommended the establishment of a casino at Exmouth.

Instead, Perth’s first legal casino was established at Burswood in 1985.

The 1984 inquiry concluded that the specialised nature and complexity of casinos justified them being regulated separately.

The regulator should be independent, with its own staff and be self-funded.

She said initial regulation in WA was something of a half-way house, as the regulator was not fully independent and key decisions were left with the minister.

Ms Cahill said casino regulation has been through a number of changes since then but observed that as a result, “a coherent policy is not clear”.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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