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ABC News
ABC News
state political reporter Richard Willingham

Crown Casino's bank cheque practice likely 'resulted in criminal infiltration', gambling watchdog finds

Crown Casino faces a $30 million fine and disciplinary action by Victoria's gambling watchdog. (Darrian Traynor / Getty Images)

Crown Casino has been fined $30 million by Victoria's gambling watchdog for allowing punters to cash bank cheques made out to themselves, exacerbating gambling harm and likely aiding "criminal infiltration by money launderers".

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) also raised concerns stemming from the royal commission into the gambling behemoth that it was likely Crown had allowed punters to use blank cheques to gamble at the Southbank casino.

The use of cheques is strictly controlled due to money laundering and fraud risks.

The fine relates to the royal commission findings into the casino that found it was not suitable to hold a licence – the company, now privately owned, has been given until the end of the year to prove it is fit to run the casino.

The royal commission found Crown had allowed punters to use bank cheques made out to themselves in exchange for gambling chips, which were issued before the cheque had cleared.

The VGCCC estimates between 1994 and 2021, when the practice ended, more than $1.5 billion worth of cheques may have been subjected to the practice.

"Although these figures are based on the very uncertain estimates that were referred to in Crown Melbourne's submissions,'' the VGCCC said.

"They provide some (albeit uncertain) sense of the scale of the extent to which the Bank Cheque Practice is likely to have resulted in criminal infiltration by money launderers, the infliction of gambling harm and the provision of what would have otherwise been unauthorised credit."

Gambler loses $100k worth of casino chips

In one case Ahmed Hasna, a problem gambler experiencing financial hardship, attended the casino with a bank cheque made out to him in the amount of $100,000.

According to the royal commission, Crown exchanged Mr Hasna's bank cheque – before it had cleared – for $100,000 worth of casino chips.

"Mr Hasna gambled those chips and lost them all,'' the report says.

A short time later, the bank cheque was dishonoured, meaning Crown had provided gambling chips on credit to a person who was both addicted to gambling and experiencing financial harm.

Crown took steps to recover the debt.

"According to the RCCOL [the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence], the steps Crown Melbourne took to recover the debt included Mr Hasna being told that 'he could continue gambling at the casino – and maintain his [highest tier] black card privileges – on the condition that he repay his $100,000 debt out of any future winnings','' the VGCCC said.

Cheques used to disguise money laundering

VGCCC chair Fran Thorne said the practice was a form of credit, which was banned.

"The use of cheques can disguise money laundering,'' Ms Thorn said.

"It is also an undocumented practice, and the Casino is required to document all its process practice so that the regulator knows what it does and is able to oversight them."

While the VGCCC has not been able to substantiate suspicions of the use of blank cheques, it has issued specific directions to the casino to ban the practice.

It will also review Crown's current policies and procedures on accepting bank cheques, and investigate any other undocumented practices at the Melbourne casino.

Last year, Crown was fined $120 million by the Commission for responsible gambling breaches and is facing a fine of more than a $1 billion from Australia's anti-money laundering body AUSTRAC.

Crown Resorts has accepted the fine.

"These practices have ceased, and we have implemented significant improvements to reduce and prevent risk across our business,'' a spokesperson said.

 "Under new ownership and leadership, our Future Crown program is driving whole-of-company reform as we continue to uplift our culture and build a Crown that exceeds the expectations of our stakeholders and the community."

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