Australian politicians are squabbling over who should investigate yesterday’s bombshell allegations about video poker machine tampering and money laundering at casino operator Crown Resorts.
Wednesday saw Independent MP Andrew Wilkie table evidence in parliament from three former Crown Melbourne staffers, who claim management forced them to tamper with pokies to disable lower bet options, enable prohibited autoplay, reduce payout ratios to below legal thresholds, while also misusing identify documents to help high-rollers avoid the scrutiny of financial watchdogs.
The Victorian Commission for Gaming and Liquor Regulation, which Wilkie’s whistleblowers had accused of being “complicit” in some of Crown’s alleged misconduct, said Wednesday that it took such matters “extremely seriously” and would “thoroughly” investigate the allegations.
SENATORS SEEK INDEPENDENT INQUIRY
That’s not good enough for some Aussie politicians, particularly the other members of the ‘pokieleaks’ posse that led to Wilkie’s whistleblowers coming forward. Sen. Nick Xenophon said Thursday that he didn’t have “that much confidence” in the Commission’s ability to investigate Crown, or itself for that matter.
Speaking to the Nine Network, Xenophon expressed concerns that the whistleblowers had also “lost confidence” in the Commission, particularly given that their allegations included claims that the Commission “didn’t adequately investigate” the alleged problems.
As a result, Xenophon feels the allegations “must be put under the scrutiny of an independent inquiry.” Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale vowed to work with the Xenophon Team to push for a Senate inquiry.
A QUESTION OF JURISDICTION
But Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who manages the Turnbull government’s business in the Senate, said Thursday that casino regulation was a matter for the states to regulate, not the federal government, and that “the most productive way” forward was to let Victoria take the lead.
However, Fifield told ABC Radio that the Senate could choose to conduct its own inquiry if there was sufficient interest. Fifield also noted that the Austrac federal financial watchdog “will, as it always does, investigate claims of wrongdoing.”
The Victorian Greens party and some of the more vocal anti-gambling zealots have called for Crown’s license to be suspended while the allegations are investigated. The Commission had already begun the operator’s five-yearly license review in August.
ONLY A FLESH WOUND
The allegations caused Crown shares to fall more than 4% on Wednesday, and the shares have fallen another 2% in early Thursday trading. Crown issued a brief statement following Wilkie’s bombshell, rejecting the allegations while urging Wilkie to provide all his supporting evidence to the relevant authorities.
Despite Crown’s share slide, analysts suggested shareholders were overreacting to what Credit Suisse called the “political fanfare” of Wilkie’s presentation. Credit Suisse said the majority of the tampering allegations were “very low risk” with the exception of the “noteworthy” claims of the casino helping VIPs avoid Austrac scrutiny.
This spring, Austrac hit betting operator Tabcorp with a A$45m penalty (plus court costs) for failing to observe proper anti-money laundering (AML) controls. Credit Suisse noted that even if Crown is found similarly at fault, the penalties “would not materially alter the value” of the casino operator.