Embattled casino giant Crown to face royal commission in Victoria, director Harold Mitchell quits

Embattled casino giant Crown to face royal commission in Victoria, director Harold Mitchell quits

The bad news keeps coming for Crown Resorts, which now faces a royal commission in Victoria, while another director has quit.

The probe comes in the wake of damning findings from the NSW regulator’s money laundering inquiry, and will be overseen by former Federal Court judge and senior barrister Raymond Finkelstein.

He will hand down his findings by August 1.

It comes after the NSW inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, found the gambling giant unsuitable to hold the gaming licence for its new venue at Barangaroo in Sydney on the back of evidence organised crime-linked money laundering occurred at Crown Melbourne and Perth.

“Establishing a royal commission will ensure the most appropriate access to information regarding Crown Melbourne’s suitability to hold the casino licence given the commission’s powers to compel witnesses and documentation,” the office of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement on Monday.

Mr Andrews said the probe was about making sure casino licence holders in Victoria upheld the highest standards of probity and integrity, “and that they’re accountable for their actions”.

The Victorian government has also begun work to establish an independent casino regulator and Gaming Minister Melissa Horne has commissioned a review to advise on the necessary structural and governance arrangements.

She said the Bergin inquiry findings were “incredibly concerning”.

“We will not tolerate illegal behaviour in our gaming industry,” Ms Horne said.

The review will occur parallel to the royal commission and will assess requirements for regulation of money laundering and junket operations, among other things.

Crown is also facing an investigation with the powers of a royal commission in Perth, estimated to take about four months.

WA Premier Mark McGowan has flagged taking “stern action” against the company if needed.

The controversy has already claimed the scalps of chief executive Ken Barton and James Packer’s lieutenants on the board, and director Harold Mitchell capitulated to pressure to resign on Monday.

Crown’s announcement was a single line, saying his departure was “with immediate effect”.

Victoria’s gambling regulator has been investigating Mr Mitchell, who was found in 2019 to have breached his director’s duties while on the board of Tennis Australia.

The breaches were in connection with a 2013 decision to award the domestic television broadcast rights for the Australian Open tennis tournament to the Seven Network, earning him a $90,000 penalty in November.

After the NSW findings said Mr Packer’s influence over Crown had “disastrous consequences for the company”, the reclusive billionaire said he would sadly step back to being a passive shareholder.

The inquiry heard he got special treatment as the biggest investor with a 36 per cent stake, with briefings on an almost daily basis, and had been the driving force behind the push to secure more of the Asian high-roller market at the centre of the scandal.

One of the most dire consequences of that push were Crown staffers being arrested in China in 2016.