15/02/2021 - 15:49

WA casino regulator steps aside

15/02/2021 - 15:49

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The fallout from last week’s NSW report into Crown Resorts has spread, with WA’s chief casino officer stepping aside from the role and the company’s chief executive resigning.

WA casino regulator steps aside

The fallout from last week’s NSW report into Crown Resorts has spread, with Western Australia’s chief casino officer stepping aside from the role and the company’s chief executive resigning.

The Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries disclosed this morning that chief casino officer Michael Connolly, who is also the department's deputy director general, has stepped aside from the casino role to avoid any conflict of interest.

It followed enquiries by 6PR regarding Mr Connolly’s friendship with Crown staff, including hosting boat trips.

Director general Duncan Ord said Mr Connolly did not deny socialising with Crown Perth employees.

Mr Ord also sought to explain why no action had been taken previously.

“The people Mr Connolly took fishing did not fit into the senior management category,” Mr Ord added.

“The nature of the relationship is one of being friends for an extended period.

“This friendship, and any potential or perceived conflict has been declared formally and has been discussed and declared to myself and the former director general Barry Sargeant, as well as the Gaming and Wagering Commission, who have noted the declaration of interest in the minutes of meetings."

The Commission is chaired by Mr Ord.

Mark Beecroft has assumed the role to assist the commission with its response to the NSW report, which concluded Crown should not be given a licence for its new Sydney casino.

The revelations in the NSW inquiry, including links to organised crime and the use of Crown's Perth and Melbourne casinos for money laundering, have raised questions about whether regulators in WA and Victoria should have demanded more scrutiny.

Premier Mark McGowan said this morning that he would have expected higher standards.

“Obviously, the events that have come to light regarding this employee are disappointing and I expect there will be proper action taken,” he said.

“If we need to take stern action, we will.”

Mr McGowan said he was unable to predict what would happen to Crown’s WA casino licence, but again emphasised that the gaming company was a major employer in the state.

“I can’t predict what will happen, because that will be dependent on the findings from the report, but I want to make one thing crystal clear, no unlawfulness will be tolerated," he said.

“No illegality will be tolerated, but we need to move in a direction that ensures people keep their jobs.

“More than 5,500 people work there.

“We need to make sure that we can stamp out illegality, but that we keep people employed."

He noted that the state solicitor was expected to meet with the Gaming and Wagering Commission tomorrow evening to provide advice on Ms Bergin’s report.

WA government agencies have also been in touch with their counterparts in Victoria and NSW.

“A consistent, national approach would be a good thing,” Mr McGowan said.

He would not rule out an independent judicial inquiry.

Opposition leader Zak Kirkup called on Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia to come out and publicly discuss the process regarding the inquiry.

“This is minister Paul Papalia’s area of responsibility and I have not seen him at all throughout this inquiry,” Mr Kirkup said.

“I think it speaks to the level of secrecy that operates within the government at the moment.”

Both major parties have said they will not be taking any donations from Crown until the investigation is finalised.

Meanwhile, Crown announced the widely anticipated resignation of chief executive Ken Barton this morning.

Chair Helen Coonan will lead the company as executive chairman while the board searches for a new CEO.

Mr Barton’s departure follows the resignation last week of three Crown directors: Andrew Demetriou, Michael Johnston and Guy Jalland.

Messrs Johnson and Jalland were nominees of James Packer’s private company, Consolidated Press, which is Crown’s major shareholder but has pledged to cut all other ties.

As part of that process, Perth-based director John Poynton, who also chairs Crown Perth, ended his consultancy contract with CPH.

Mr Poynton has told Business News that he hopes to stay on the board and, with time, be considered an independent director.

In a statement this morning, Crown said it was determined to take significant steps to improve governance, compliance and culture.

Mr Barton said he was committed to assisting with a leadership transition.

"I am absolutely certain the business is now on the right path as it works to restore confidence in its operations," he said.

Mr Barton has spent more than a decade with Crown, initially as its chief financial officer before being appointed as CEO in January 2020 as the Bergin inquiry began.

During his time at Crown he was also the director of two VIP bank accounts at the centre of money laundering allegations.

Commissioner Bergin found Mr Barton was "no match for what is needed at the helm of a casino licensee".

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