Crown accused of ‘not looking too hard’

Crown employed a “culture” of “not looking too hard” into its immensely profitable but controversial use of junket operations, a royal commission has heard. 

The inquiry into whether Crown remains suitable to keep its licence for its Melbourne operations heard junket operators brought customers to the casino in exchange for a cut of their spendings. 

Crown knew how much money the junkets had to play with, but the groups’ individual players were afforded a level of “anonymity”.

Victoria’s gambling watchdog raised concerns this exposed the casino to money laundering and organised crime. 

Counsel assisting, Penny Neskovcin QC, on Thursday told the inquiry that Crown Melbourne pocketed more than $200 million in 2017, $400 million in 2018, and $300 million in 2019 through its junket operations. 

Ms Neskovcin said Crown had “no relationship” with the junket players, which created transparency issues. 

Crown ceased all junket operations in November 2020, after a NSW inquiry found the James Packer-backed group unsuitable to run its newly built casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo.

But Ms Neskovcin said prior to the NSW inquiry, led by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, Crown had been “reluctant” to do a deep dive into junket operations. 

She said Crown was aware of the risk of exposure to money laundering, but that no changes were made until a “light was shone on it” during the Bergin inquiry. 

“This is illustrative of Crown doing the bare minimum and a culture of what we described as ‘not looking too hard’,” Ms Neskovcin said. 

A December 2020 report published by financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC found that junket tour operations were exposed to a “high level” of vulnerability to money laundering, the Victorian inquiry heard. 

The AUSTRAC report said a key vulnerability was a “lack of transparency” and “level of anonymity” created by the pooling of players’ funds and transactions under the name of the junket tour operator. 

It also said financial arrangements between the junket tour operator and players were not disclosed to the casino. 

The Victorian inquiry, which began its public hearings on Monday, previously heard Crown threatened to call the state’s gaming minister after the gambling watchdog probed its use of junkets. 

The royal commission was set up by the Andrews Labor government. 

It is being overseen by former Federal Court judge Raymond Finkelstein QC.

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