Casino operator Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE) has filed a legal challenge of an Australian gambling regulator’s authority to determine whether MRE is a suitable investor in Aussie rival Crown Resorts.
On Wednesday, The Australian reported that MRE had filed a legal challenge with the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA), arguing that the regulator is exceeding its authority via its inquiry into MRE’s plan to buy a 20% stake in Crown. MRE’s legal hail mary will be heard in a hearing with the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday.
To refresh your memory, MRE boss Lawrence Ho made a deal with Crown’s largest shareholder James Packer last May to buy 20% of the Australian casino operator. That deal was ‘paused’ that August after only half of the Crown shares had changed hands to “allow more time for the relevant Australian regulatory processes to be completed.”
Those regulatory processes, which included the ILGA probe, were sparked after Crown’s dealings with Asian VIP gamblers were lambasted in an episode of 60 Minutes Australia. It later became known that Lawrence Ho (pictured) sat on the boards of some companies with which Crown was forbidden to associate due to their connection to Lawrence’s father Stanley, who has been linked (rightly or wrongly) to Hong Kong triad activity.
MRE’s filing argues that the company is under no obligation to turn over certain documents that MRE believe would breach attorney-client privilege. MRE further disputes that the scope of this inquiry permits the ILGA to exercise sections of Australian law that might allow the regulator to breach this privilege.
When the inquiry got underway last month, attorneys hinted at some backstage friction regarding MRE’s willingness to produce requested documents. Barrister Adam Bell said any witness called to testify at or produce documents for the inquiry “is not excused … on the ground of legal professional or other privilege or self-incrimination or a duty of secrecy or other restriction or disclosure or any other ground.”
Lawrence Ho and James Packer were former partners in the Melco Crown Entertainment joint venture, which operated casinos in Macau and Manila. Crown began selling off its MCE stake in 2016 and sold the last of its holdings the following year in order to focus on its domestic operations, including the new Crown Sydney project (the source of those ‘don’t associate with Stanley Ho’ rules). It remains to be seen if Aussie regulators will stand in the way of this dynamic duo hooking up for a second time.