Crown failings ‘inexplicable, unbelievable, absurd’, says commissioner

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The commissioner leading the Crown Resorts inquiry says it is "breathtaking" the casino giant is unwilling to learn from its past mistakes and "inexplicable" that executives – including current boss Ken Barton – did not share bad news with superiors when things went wrong.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin’s savaging of Crown on Friday is an ominous sign for the James Packer-backed group ahead of the NSW gambling meeting next week to decide whether to prevent it from opening its new Barangaroo casino in December as planned until the inquiry has ruled on Crown's suitability to keep its licence.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin will hand down her findings on Crown’s suitability by February next year.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry on Friday heard further submissions from counsel representing Mr Packer and his private company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH), which owns 35 per cent of Crown.

Counsel assisting the inquiry have argued that Mr Packer's "deleterious" influence over Crown is a key reason it is unfit to hold the licence for its new $2.2 billion casino at Barangaroo, which ILGA will decide next week whether it can open in December as Crown plans.

Noel Hutley, SC, said there was no evidence to support the claim that Crown executives were reluctant to share "bad news" with Mr Packer — who was Crown's chairman from 2017 to 2015 and a director from 2017 to 2018 — due to his "forceful personality".

"No one has said that," Mr Hutley said. "It simply can’t be right."

Commissioner Patricia Bergin responded that in many instances there was "quite a deal of bad news, had they reflected on it, and it just wasn't elevated".

This included red flags for the danger Crown staff faced in China before 19 were arrested there in 2016, and concerns from major banks that criminals were using Crown bank accounts to launder money.

"There has got to be an explanation somewhere that these things can be going on in a casino operator," Commissioner Bergin said. "It is almost inexplicable. And so the option is they didn’t want to give bad news."

Commissioner Bergin said it was "unbelievable" that Crown's now CEO Mr Barton, when he was its finance chief, he did not alert former boss Rowen Craigie that three separate banks had shut down Crown bank accounts over money laundering concerns, nor that Mr Craigie would not have then told Mr Packer.

Mr Hutley said Mr Packer's "strong personality" could not explain why mid-level executives at Crown were not sharing important information with each other, to which Commissioner Bergin raised Crown's "dysfunctional" corporate structure, in which Mr Packer installed CPH executive and Crown director Michael Johnston as an adviser to the scandal-prone VIP business.

"You've got underlings who will look to him, and what will they look to him as? A director of Crown Resorts," she said.

In further damning remarks, Commissioner Bergin criticised Crown's board for not conducting an internal review of the risk management failures that led to 19 employees being arrested and jailed for gambling crimes in China in 2016.

"They don’t like looking backwards in this organisation I'm told," she said. "The absurdity of not learning from your past is really breathtaking."

Commissioner Bergin must deliver her report on whether Crown should keep its casino licence by February 1 next year, however Crown has said it will open its new Sydney casino in the middle of next month. ILGA will meet on Wednesday to decide whether to stop Crown from opening while the inquiry is ongoing.

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