Crown Resorts apologises to investors

Crown Resorts has apologised to shareholders for governance and risk management failures at the gaming and casinos group, that were unearthed by a NSW inquiry.

“Let me say clearly that I unreservedly apologise for the failings,” chairman Helen Coonan told investors at Crown’s virtual annual general meeting on Thursday.

“Having a gaming licence is a privilege that we as an organisation do not take for granted.”

Crown is facing a potentially fractious meeting after earlier this year appointing Ms Coonan as non-executive chair and Ken Barton as its first CEO.

This was done to bring its board and management structure “more in line with contemporary governance practices”, after replacing longstanding executive chair John Alexander who will formally retire from the board at Thursday’s meeting.

Late on Wednesday, Crown severed a services agreement with James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings in place since July 2016 and a controlling shareholder protocol set up in October 2018.

Both arrangements allowed the billionaire, who holds 36.8 per cent of Crown through his private company, access to confidential information not available to other investors.

Critics argued the arrangements blurred the lines between the board and management of the two companies, particularly after Mr Packer stepped down as a Crown board director in 2018.

“CPH remains a significant shareholder, and I appreciate that this relationship needs to be appropriately managed,” Ms Coonan said. 

“I want to assure our various stakeholders that we are listening and changes will be made.” 

Ms Coonan also noted that proxy votes received ahead of the meeting represented a “significant” vote against directors up for re-election. They include Jane Halton, John Horvath and Guy Jallard.

Earlier this month, Mr Packer appeared before the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority looking into Crown’s fitness to hold a licence for its new Sydney casino, due to open at Barangaroo near the CBD later this year.

He agreed that after leaving the board he had continued to communicate directly with and give instructions to directors and management on issues such as asset sales, financial reviews and cost-cutting.

“I was under the impression I could communicate in the way I was communicating,” Mr Packer told the hearing.

The billionaire has also indicated to the inquiry he may be prepared to sell down his voting shares in the company.

Earlier this week, Australia’s financial watchdog launched an investigation into possible breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws involving some of its customers identified as “high risk” and “politically exposed”.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) investigation follows a compliance review that began in September 2019.

The NSW inquiry was triggered by media reports last year accusing Crown of doing business with casino “junket” operators who had not been vetted for organised crime links.

Ms Coonan said Crown’s Sydney casino was still on track to open in December. 

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