Australian casino operator Crown Resorts will no longer share confidential financial data with its largest shareholder, while the company’s former chairman could face sanctions for ducking calls to testify at a regulatory inquiry.
On Wednesday, just 24 hours before its (virtual) annual general meeting, Crown informed shareholders that the company had terminated two agreements with Consolidated Press Holdings Pty Ltd (CPH), a company controlled by James Packer, who holds more than one-third of Crown stock.
One of the two agreements “enabled the sharing of confidential information by Crown to CPH and James Packer.” That arrangement was revealed in testimony last month at the New South Wales Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a state gaming license for its Crown Sydney property.
Crown provided Packer (pictured) with financial projections during Packer’s recent failed attempt to sell 20% of Crown to rival Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE). Packer reportedly convinced Crown director Michael Johnston – who also held an executive role at CPH – to ask Crown’s CEO Ken Barton to boost Crown’s VIP gambling revenue projections before the sale to MRE was finalized.
RANKIN’S ABSENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES
Meanwhile, Wednesday saw Scott Aspinall, counsel assisting the ILGA inquiry, recommend that former Crown chairman Robert Rankin be referred to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for investigation into a possible breach of directors’ duties.
Rankin, who resigned as Crown’s chair in February 2017 and stepped down from the board entirely that June, now lives in the UK. Aspinall told the inquiry that Rankin had refused to provide written evidence to the ILGA or to testify via video link, as Packer did from his yacht on the high seas. Rankin reportedly claimed the ILGA had no authority to compel him to testify.
The inquiry has heard that Rankin failed to notify other Crown directors of concerns expressed in a 2015 email regarding the safety of Crown staffers based on the Chinese mainland. The following year, 19 Crown staff were arrested in China for illegally promoting gambling to mainland residents, and some staff spent months in jail before being released.
Rankin similarly failed to inform Crown directors of threats Packer made to a hedge fund manager who’d resisted pledging the level of investment Packer sought when he attempted to take Crown private in 2015.
Aspinall, who were going to assume has no connection to Crown’s UK casino brand of the same name, suggested that Rankin had failed “without justifiable reason” in his “obligations of due care and diligence.” That’s a potential breach of section 180 of the Corporations Act, which could see Rankin hit with financial penalties or being barred from managing companies.
Three members of Crown’s board are up for re-election during Thursday’s AGM, which should prove a lively affair indeed. The outcome of these votes, among other agenda items, could influence the ILGA’s final report on whether Crown Sydney should be allowed to retain its NSW gaming license when it opens in December.
In addition to the ILGA inquiry, Crown is also the subject of probes by gambling regulators in the state of Victoria and by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), both centering on sketchy anti-money laundering compliance practices at the Crown Melbourne casino.