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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