Australia Crown Resorts manager threatened Victorian gaming regulator, royal commission told
Western Australia's gaming regulator to front royal commission
A royal commission into Crown Perth is set to hear evidence from representatives of Western Australia's gaming regulator.Gaming and Wagering Commission chair Duncan Ord is expected on Monday to be the inquiry's first witness at a hearing in Perth.
Managers at Crown Resorts misled, threatened and pushed back against Victoria's gaming regulator when it tried to get the company to tighten anti-money laundering protocols at its Melbourne casino, at one stage even threatening to call the state's Gaming Minister, an inquiry has heard.
The allegations were aired on the second day of the Victorian royal commission investigating the suitability of Crown Melbourne Limited to hold a casino licence.
The commission was called in response to the Bergin Inquiry in New South Wales,due to allegations of money laundering and links to international criminal syndicates.
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Jason Cremona, the manager of the audit team with the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), told the inquiry that in July 2018, Crown Melbourne Ltd was told it had until June the following year to start recording the names and transactions of all high-roller gamblers.
The inquiry heard that players from Asia who came to Crown on junket tours organised through third-party operators were not required to disclose how much they were spending at the casino as individuals — just as a group.
The VCGLR was concerned this left the casino open to being used for money laundering activities, as authorities could not track the money spent and collected by individual players.
'Alarm bells started ringing'
Mr Cremona said from July 2018 until June 2019, Crown management pushed back against the recommendation to change the protocol, but repeatedly said it was meeting representatives from the federal financial security agency AUSTRAC about it.
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However, when Mr Cremona approached representatives from AUSTRAC in 2018 and again in May 2019, the agency told him they had not been working with Crown to address that specific protocol, but rather broader anti-money laundering policy.
"At that stage, the alarm bells were ringing relatively loudly that they [Crown] were failing to address the recommendation," Mr Cremona told the commission.
Mr Cremona said his concerns prompted him to send a letter to Crown Resorts chief legal officer Joshua Preston in May 2019, that they were at risk of not complying with the recommended protocol and could be directed to take "remedial action".
The letter said Crown appeared "reluctant" to review its policy and to work with AUSTRAC to change it.
Regulator being 'pressured' to drop the issue
Mr Cremona told the commission he then received an "aggressive" phone call from Michelle Fielding, a manager with Crown's compliance section, saying Crown had been misrepresented and that Josh [Preston] was "furious" and would most probably "call the Minister".
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"I just think the tone was unexpected," Mr Cremona told the commission.
"I've had many engagements with Michelle, many discussions with Michelle across my 20 years in gambling regulation, and I was clearly taken aback by the tone, the aggressive nature."
"Referencing calling the Minister is almost like we take offence to what you've said and we are going to take action to escalate and seek that our position be put forward. It's something we ordinarily don't hear."
He said he could not recall Crown ever threatening to call the Minister before, and agreed with Commissioner Ray Finkelstein that they were pressuring him to drop the matter.
"And threatening you for pushing it?" Commissioner Finkelstein asked Mr Cremona.
"Correct," he replied.
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The commission did not hear any evidence that a call was ever made.
Mr Cremona said the only reason Crown would have been unwilling to comply with the recommendation and find out who the individual junket players were, was because the company would have lost business.
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"I have views that if Crown were required to obtain information in relation to the source of funds from junket players, that could be reason for the junket players not to come and gamble at the Melbourne casino and look elsewhere," he said.
"It's the only reason isn't it?" Commissioner Finkelstein asked Mr Cremona.
"I believe so, Commissioner," he said.
When the June 2019 deadline for meeting the recommendation came, Mr Cremona said the VCGLR decided to say that Crown Melbourne had met the target, even though the regulator had serious concerns about the lack of compliance.
When asked why he did not stick to his guns, Mr Cremona said he believed it would be quicker if the VCGLR took its own action to change the regulations, rather than rely on Crown.
He told the commission they were changed at a later date.
Under questioning from Crown's lawyer, Mr Cremona agreed that Crown had complied with 19 other recommendations that were made by the VCGLR in 2018.
He said the naming of individual junket players was the recommendation where they were least cooperative.
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Crown doing 'bare minimum' on cutting ties with junket operators, royal commission told .
Crown Resorts "does not intend" to allow any high rollers associated with international junket tour groups to gamble at its Australian casinos in the future, the royal commission hears.Crown made the commitment in a letter sent to the Victorian Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence examining whether the company was fit to hold a casino licence in the state.