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Tom Ravlic

Key independent calls for broad-based casino royal commission following Star and Crown scandals

Australia’s casino industry should be the subject of an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission, so that the community has a complete understanding of the scale of misconduct in the sector, according to Andrew Wilkie, an independent federal member of Parliament and long-time gambling reform advocate.

The staunch campaigner for changes in the gambling sector has also called for national regulation of the casino sector, given its size and the risks associated with gambling enterprises operating across multiple jurisdictions.

Wilkie’s call for a full-scale inquiry into the casino sector follows multiple inquiries into Australia’s two major casino plays, Crown Casino and Star Entertainment.

Both Crown and Star were found to be unsuitable to hold their respective gaming licences following evidence they had shoddy governance practices, links with organised crime through junket operations, large-scale money laundering, and practices designed to draw addicted gamblers back into venues.

Star Entertainment was hit this week with a $100 million fine and a suspension of its licence, while Crown Casino copped an $80 million fine in May for participating in arrangements that saw illegal transfers of funds from China.

Wilkie said a national inquiry should be held so that the practices of all casinos, relevant regulators and other parties are properly examined, given the revelations of Crown and Star.

“I suspect we would find misconduct in other casinos although it is probably those two big companies — Crown and Star — which are the biggest casinos and the most attractive casinos for foreign gamblers and high rollers and so on, which has been a particular issue in those venues,” Wilkie said.

A national regulator for casinos is also on Wilkie’s wish list, in part because the companies involved tend to trade across state or territory borders and have to comply with various commonwealth laws, such as the anti-money laundering legislation.

Wilkie also highlighted how state and territory regulators have let the community down and failed to do their jobs when it comes to dealing with gambling and gaming venues.

He said a staff member from the Victorian regulator contacted him with video evidence of money laundering, which Wilkie tabled in Parliament because senior management at the regulator did not want to follow it up.

“The regulators have tended to be too close to the casinos. They have become captive. To some degree the casinos self-regulate. We have to rely on them. It just doesn’t work,” Wilkie said.

“And, of course, the state and territory governments have a terrible conflict of interest here. These big casinos — they are very large, single-site employers — some would describe them as being too big to fail or too big to be shut down. They generate an enormous amount of tax revenue that goes to the state and territory governments.”

The Alliance for Gambling Reform’s chief advocate Tim Costello said it was necessary for there to be a national regulator because casinos have repeatedly said that their target is the overseas market.

Costello said national regulation would align not only with laws related to anti-money laundering and corporate law but immigration legislation.

He also said national regulation was critical because regulation at state and territory levels has been proven to fail.

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