Crown Melbourne CEO’s job may be in danger

Crown Melbourne chief executive Xavier Walsh’s head may be on the chopping block after he failed to act on knowledge the casino may owe hundreds of millions in unpaid gaming taxes.

Crown Resorts non-executive director Jane Halton on Wednesday said she was “absolutely concerned” Mr Walsh knew for nearly three years the Southbank casino may have underpaid its gaming taxes and failed to act. 

The inquiry into whether the James Packer-backed group can retain its Melbourne licence has heard Crown may owe the Victorian Government up to $272 million after claiming as losses promotions handed out through its pokies loyalty program since 2012. 

Counsel assisting Penny Nescovkin SC said Ms Halton and Crown’s other directors had put their faith in Mr Walsh and had to assume he would do the right thing. 

“Do you feel comfortable Crown Melbourne is in the right hands while Mr Walsh is CEO and director?” Ms Nescovkin asked Ms Halton. 

The Crown Resorts director did not provide a direct response.

She said while Mr Walsh had been “very open, honest and straightforward”, there were a “range of issues” to manage at the company. This included the fact Mr Walsh knew about the gaming tax issue since 2018 but only looked into it in February, two days after the royal commission was announced.

“I would say there are questions here, very definitely,” Ms Halton added. “I am concerned.”

Ms Halton went on to say newly-minted Crown Resorts chief executive Steve McCann, who faced the inquiry on Tuesday, would assess all the firm’s senior management going forward. 

Earlier, Ms Halton admitted Crown knew its junket operations exposed the casino to money laundering for nearly one year and only stopped using them after a NSW inquiry scrutinised the practice.

Junket groups brought Chinese high-rollers to the casino in exchange for a cut of their gambling losses. 

But Crown only wound up junket operations after facing heavy scrutiny during the NSW inquiry, which found Crown unsuitable to operate its newly built casino at Barangaroo in Sydney.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday said the prospect of Crown Melbourne losing its casino licence is “very real” and that anyone who can’t deliver on the highest standards is “out”.

The state opposition will seek crossbench support to open an inquiry into Victoria’s gambling regulator.

Shadow gaming minister Steph Ryan said the Crown Melbourne inquiry had been “nobbled” by a narrow terms of reference that did not include scrutiny of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

This followed former VCGLR regulators on Monday telling the ABC they were discouraged from reporting and examining alleged criminal activity inside Crown Melbourne.

The inquiry continues on Wednesday.

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