Victoria’s Crown royal commission to go further than NSW inquiry, commissioner says


Victoria’s royal commission into Crown Casino will go further than the New South Wales inquiry and will put the management of gambling addiction front and centre, despite it not being directly in its terms of reference, former judge Ray Finkelstein has said.

The first day of the inquiry heard the commission was still waiting for the gambling giant to respond to questions about whether it had breached its legal obligations.

There are 300,000 Australians with a gambling problem, accounting for a third of all losses worth about $3.5 billion, Mr Finkelstein said.

“The impact of this problem gambling is widespread — it affects not only the gambler, but the gambler’s family, employers and unrelated third parties,” he said.

The commission has been established in response to the damning findings of the NSW inquiry, which found Crown Resorts was not suitable to hold a NSW casino licence. 

The Bergin inquiry uncovered issues with money laundering, poor governance and the operation of junkets with people linked to organised crime.

Many of the findings were based on incidents and behaviour at the Melbourne casino.

In the opening day of the probe into Crown Resorts’ suitability to hold Victoria’s sole casino licence, Mr Finkelstein said he had written two letters to the company, to seek their response to the damning Bergin inquiry, and to assess whether Crown had broken any Victorian rules.

In response to the first letter, Crown said it disagreed with the Bergin inquiry’s findings that there were deliberate and wilful actions by Crown, including money laundering and running junkets with organised crime gangs.

Crown did accept it was open for the Bergin inquiry to find it was unsuitable to hold a licence.

The second letter was written to ascertain whether Crown had breached its obligations under Victorian laws, and whether it had the internal system in place to detect breaches. The response will determine the course of the royal commission’s investigations.

“I’m concerned that unless the seriousness of the conduct is recognised, any steps taken to remedy the position might only be half-hearted of them,” Mr Finkelstein said.

Mr Finkelstein is yet to receive a response.

The commissioner also put Crown and other parties on notice about any delays to producing documents, given he only has until August 1 to make his recommendations.

He has already received complaints about how onerous it is to find specific documents.

Counsel assisting the commission, Adrian Finanzio SC, highlighted how many of the findings of the Bergin inquiry occurred at the Melbourne casino, and that “many matters” about Crown’s conduct had not been explained by the Bergin inquiry.

He said it was important to assess whether Crown Resorts understood the gravity of the situation.

“Given the seriousness of the matters raised, and the findings of the Bergin inquiry, it will be necessary to test the veracity, the effectiveness and the adequacy of the measures which Crown says have been taken to address the principle conclusions of Commissioner Bergin,” Mr Finanzio said.

But he said the royal commission would go much further.

The next public hearings will occur next month.

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Crown Perth's $34m JobKeeper jackpot




Crown Perth has posted a $42.5 million increase in underlying earnings after continuing to receive JobKeeper until the end of September, despite reopening in June after restrictions lifted.

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Crown ditches political donations days after West Australian election


Crown has announced it will scrap political donations as it prepares for dual royal commissions in Melbourne and Perth to determine the company’s suitability to continue operating casinos.

In a short statement released Tuesday morning, three days after the WA election, Crown said it would immediately stop all political donations.

A royal commission will be launched into Crown Perth and Crown Victoria.Credit:Philip Gostelow

“Crown has today announced that Crown and its associated entities will cease making monetary or in-kind political donations, effective immediately,” the statement said.

Crown is one of Australia’s most active donors; according to the Australian Electoral Commission it poured $184,500 into the coffers of parties across the political spectrum in 2019-20.

The embattled casino and resort operator faces a rough year ahead as the WA and Victorian royal commissions probe whether the company has broken any laws in their respective states and whether it is fit to continue operating casino licences.

The royal commissions were triggered by former NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin’s 18-month inquiry into the company, which examined evidence of money laundering through Crown’s bank accounts and operating “junket” tours linked to triad organised crime gangs.

The final report in February found Crown’s failures to put a stop to these illegal activities made it unfit to hold a casino licence in NSW.

The report led to the resignation of seven directors since October 2020, the most recent being Perth-based businessman and Crown Resorts director John Poynton.

Donations became a hot topic in the lead up to the weekend’s WA election, with both major parties announcing they would stop accepting Crown donations after the release of the NSW report in February.

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Inside Crown Sydney’s Blainey North-designed spa


Each week, Sunday Life’s beauty director Stephanie Darling roadtests a different makeup or skincare trend to find out whether it’s worth your time. Ahead, Stephanie gives us the lowdown on Crown Sydney’s wonder spa treatment and finds some fresh foundations.

My skin feels firm and calm and I stumble down the corridors in a blissed-out stupor.Credit:iStock

Road Test

I’ve been invited to the glamorous new spa at Crown Sydney for a facial. How could I refuse?

The lowdown The palatial, Blainey North-designed spa at the spectacular Crown Sydney is a dream in barely-there blush pink, all soft and snug with a dazzling spa pool, infrared sauna and steam room. I am having the lush La Prairie Pure Gold Radiance Facial combined with the Gharieni Spa Wave Touchless Therapy Go. I lie down on the magical Spa Wave bed that ever so gently vibrates and emits sounds waves (to help reduce stress and target any aches and pains), while my therapist Kristhina gets to work, first double cleansing, then using gold-infused creams to give me a languid, next-level eye and face massage that lulls me into a state of deep relaxation. She applies a face mask, then massages my legs, feet, arms and hands with warm oil while the mask does its work.

Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Powder Foundation, $52.

Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Powder Foundation, $52. Credit:Jennifer Soo

Downtime Ninety glorious minutes.

Pain factor Never mind.

Results My skin feels firm and calm and I stumble down the corridors in a blissed-out stupor. I so needed that.

Where to get it Sydney: Crown Sydney, crownsydney.com.au. Cost: $500 for the facial and $140 for the Spa Wave. Melbourne: Crown Melbourne; crownmelbourne.com.au. Cost: $500 for the facial and $140 for the Spa Wave.

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Avatar set to reclaim box office crown


James Cameron’s science-fiction blockbuster Avatar is poised to return to the top of the all-time movie box office charts this weekend after the film was re-released in China.

Avatar, which made its debut in 2009, held the global box office title for a decade until it was overtaken by Marvel superhero epic Avengers: Endgame in 2019.

On Friday, Cameron’s film rung up an estimated $US3.5 million ($A4.5 million) in new ticket sales after it was re-released in China, where movie-going has rebounded following theatre closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That put Avatar just shy of the $US2.798 billion worldwide total collected by Endgame, according to distributor Walt Disney Co.

Both films are now owned by Disney after the company bought entertainment assets from Fox in 2019.

Cameron has been working on four sequels to Avatar. The next film, which has been delayed several times, is scheduled for release in December 2022.



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Royal commission into Crown Perth to go ahead



Western Australia will hold a royal commission into Crown’s suitability to hold a gaming licence in Perth.

It comes after last month’s Bergin inquiry into the embattled gambling giant, which detailed years of money laundering through Crown Perth via international criminal organisations and led to the state’s chief casino officer being stood aside.

“The royal commission will essentially investigate or enquire into the same matters that were announced when we announced our inquiry on February 16, they being the suitability of Crown to operate a casino in Perth,” WA Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia said.


“What they need to do to become suitable, in the event that they are found not to be.
“And also, to investigate the suitability of our regulatory environment and address whether or not there were any conflicts of interest.”
The commissioners will be former Supreme Court judges Neville Owen AO and Lindy Jenkins, and former auditor general for Western Australia Colin Muprhy PSC.
The delivery of the report will be handed down on November 14, 2021.


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Crown director John Poynton resigns effective immediately



Crown director John Poynton has resigned in the wake of the Bergin report, which has claimed the jobs of five of the gaming giant’s board members.

Mr Poynton’s resignation is effective immediately and he is the last of James Packer’s direct representatives on the board.

Executive chairman Helen Coonan said the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) had advised for Mr Poynton to step down due to a “perceived lack of independence” arising out of his past relationship with Mr Packer and Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH).


“As a result, John has agreed to resign in the best interests of Crown and our shareholders, despite no adverse findings by the Commissioner in the ILGA Inquiry in relation to his suitability, integrity or performance,” she said in a statement.
“On behalf of the Board, I thank John for his contribution to Crown over many years.”
Mr Poynton had been a member of the board of Crown since November 2018 and a director of Crown Perth since 2004.
His resignation follows a spate of other senior staff departures.
Three weeks ago, Crown was found to be “not suitable” to hold a gaming licence for its new $2.2 billion casino at Barangaroo in Sydney.

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Gillian Anderson Reacts to Prince Harry’s The Crown Comments – E! Online


Gillian Anderson is weighing in on Prince Harry‘s thoughts about her show The Crown.

The 52-year-old actress, who nabbed the 2021 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or TV Movie on Sunday, Feb. 28, spoke to journalists in the press room following the event. A reporter asked Gillian how she felt about Prince Harry’s acknowledgment during his The Late Late Show visit last week that the Netflix series from creator Peter Morgan is not purporting to be entirely fact-based.

“I would say that, you know, Harry is fairly well-qualified to judge what is fact or fiction, and that it was pleasing to hear that he understood what Peter was trying to do on the grounds that he’s telling a nuanced story of the challenges of putting duty and service before love and family, and that he has certainly many, many, many years of experience with that,” the alum of The X-Files said. “It was nice to be on the outside—and also on the inside—of a show that I care about, hearing, perhaps, that subject put to rest. One would hope.”



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Jamal Khashoggi: US report expected to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist’s murder | World News


The US government is expected to release a declassified intelligence report that finds the Saudi crown prince responsible for approving the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Three officials familiar with the matter told NBC News that in the report – contributed to mostly by the CIA – an assessment is thought to find Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely ordered the killing of the Washington Post columnist.

Mr Khashoggi disappeared in 2018 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he is later believed to have been dismembered.

His remains have never been found.

Image:
Mohammed bin Salman previously enjoyed a cosy relationship with Donald Trump

The release of the report, expected later on Thursday, is expected to mark a significant shift in US-Saudi relations, which under Donald Trump’s administration saw the major oil producer given a relaxed ride on human rights issues, its role in the Yemen war, and more.

Mr Trump also rejected calls from politicians and human rights groups to release the then-classified report in 2018 when it was first briefed to Congress.

More from Jamal Khashoggi

He is said to have been keen to keep his Arab ally close amid increasing tensions with Iran – the Saudi’s rival in the region – as well as wanting to promote US arms sales.

Under Joe Biden, however, the new US administration is looking to shift ties to a more traditional approach, starting with the president’s first phone conversation with Saudi King Salman.

On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Mr Biden would only have communications with the 85-year-old king – another shift away from Mr Trump’s cosy relationship with the crown prince, who is the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Ms Psaki also confirmed the declassified report on Mr Khashoggi’s killing was being readied for release.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a foreign policy address as Vice President Kamala Harris listens during a visit to the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Image:
Joe Biden has pledged to realign US ties with Saudi Arabia

Riyadh has already admitted Mr Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” extradition operation that went wrong, but has denied involvement from the crown prince, whose policies were often criticised in the writer’s columns.

Five men were eventually sentenced to death for the murder, but their sentences were commuted to 20 years in prison after being forgiven by Mr Khashoggi’s family.

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Mr Biden promised to realign Saudi ties with the US and has already ended offensive arms sales that could be utilised in Yemen.

He has also appointed a special envoy to help diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the Yemeni civil war.

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Daniel Andrews prepared to rip up Crown casino licence if royal commission recommends it


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he is prepared to rip up Crown Resorts’ licence to run its Melbourne casino if a newly announced royal commission recommends it.

The state government announced the inquiry into the gaming giant’s suitability to operate its Southbank casino in the wake of a scathing New South Wales report handed down earlier this month.

The Bergin inquiry found Crown Resorts was not suitable to hold a licence for its Barangaroo casino in Sydney, after hearing months of damning evidence about its operations in Melbourne and Perth.

Former federal court judge and senior barrister Raymond Finkelstein QC has been appointed commissioner to lead the Victorian inquiry, and must report back by August 1 this year.

When asked if he was prepared to end the licence, Mr Andrews said: “Yes.”

“This is a royal commission to determine whether they’re fit to hold that licence. So if you’re having that process, you have to be clear that you’ll implement the findings,” he said.

In making the announcement on Monday, Gaming Minister Melissa Horne would not be drawn on whether the government would implement all of the recommendations from the royal commission.

But Mr Andrews today said “that would certainly be my aim, and that is our form”.

The NSW report followed allegations of criminal activity within Crown’s Melbourne casino which were reported by the ABC’s Four Corners as early as 2014, and by Nine investigations five years later.

During the hearings, the company admitted money laundering had likely occurred through some of its VIP accounts.

Crown is Victoria’s largest single-site private sector employer, with more than 15,000 people working at the casino.

The state government has faced criticism over its regulation of the casino, with increased scrutiny on the role of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR).

But the head of the Victorian Department of Justice has defended the state’s gambling commission, saying “VCGLR are doing their best in very difficult circumstances”.

Secretary Rebecca Falkingham today told the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee the issues at Crown were not raised with her.

She also said the government had ordered a performance review of the gambling watchdog.

“We are keen to make sure we understand the issues within the VCGLR and make sure it’s the most modern regulatory agency for the future, in regards to what further can be done,” she said.

Shadow Gaming Minister Steph Ryan said she believed the “government’s hand has been forced” to announce the royal commission.

“I think Daniel Andrews did not want this inquiry,” Ms Ryan said.

“I think the Victorian government did everything it could to sweep these findings under the rug. But ultimately they’ve had a realisation that this is not going away and the findings cannot be ignored.”

Mr Andrews defended the time it took for his government to act, pointing to a December announcement that a special commissioner would be appointed as a five-year review of the licence was brought forward to 2021.

When the former Napthine government extended Crown’s licence, it included a clause that required the state to pay more than $200 million if there were alterations to the licence by a future government.

Mr Andrews said the royal commission was announced after “extensive legal advice” about the compensation clause, and would “protect the taxpayer”.

“You’re not going to get me standing here and apologising for having put the highest and most formal legal process in place to determine whether that business should have that licence,” he said.

The Victorian Greens have called for the state to suspend Crown’s licence immediately, for at least the duration of the royal commission.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said he was concerned the “very, very brief” period of time for the royal commission to work was not enough time to get to the bottom of the issues at the casino.

“It shouldn’t be constrained by time, it should be constrained by whatever it takes to get to the truth,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

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