Star Entertainment Group found unfit to hold Sydney casino licence

The Star Entertainment Group has been found unfit to hold its Sydney casino licence following a damning inquiry into its suitability.

The NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) published Adam Bell SC’s report on Tuesday, which found The Star unsuitable to hold a casino licence in NSW.

Star Entertainment Group has been found unfit to hold its Sydney casino license. Credit:Edwina Pickles

“The NICC has issued The Star with a show cause notice and is considering its options for disciplinary action in response to Bell’s findings and recommendations.”

The Sydney and Brisbane casino operator requested a trading halt on the ASX on Monday. The Bell report was handed to the NSW government at the beginning of this month after 36 online hearings and testimonies from more than 30 witnesses.

The public inquiry was launched after a 2021 investigation by the Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes alleged The Star enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, large-scale fraud and foreign interference in its Australian casinos for years, even though its board was warned its anti-money-laundering controls were failing.

Alleged money laundering, criminal infiltration and fraud took centre stage during the inquiry, which led to the resignations of Star executives, including former boss Matt Bekier and chairman John O’Neill. Star had claimed that the significant overhaul of its senior ranks made it suitable to continue holding its casino licence.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Naomi Sharp, SC, closed her submissions in June arguing that Star Entertainment Group and its close associates were not suitable for a casino licence and had yet to decisively rectify its dysfunctional internal culture and risk management failures.

The casino’s board, she said, was only grasping the extent of its “unsuitable associations and uncontrolled money laundering risks” because of the revealing public review.

“The report is, quite frankly, shocking. It provides evidence of an extensive compliance breakdown in key areas of The Star’s business,” NSW Independent Casino Commission chief commissioner Philip Crawford said.

”Not only were huge amounts of money disguised by the casino as hotel expenses, but vast sums of cash evaded anti-money laundering protocols in numerous situations, most alarmingly through Salon 95 – the secret room with a second cash cage.”

Crawford said appropriate disciplinary action will be determined after The Star responds to the findings.

“In addition to Bell’s analysis of the very real risks of criminal infiltration and the concealment with which senior staff conducted business, the report details cases of individual patrons exposed to gambling harms,” he said.

“Once we have given The Star the opportunity to respond to the notice, we will be in a position to determine an appropriate disciplinary approach.”

The Star is undergoing a similar review in Queensland to assess its suitability to continue holding its licences in that state where it runs three casinos.

Crown Resorts was found unsuitable to hold any of its casino licences after a series of inquiries in NSW, Victoria and WA, but has continued operating following a significant overhaul of its management and culture that was praised by ILGA. Its Sydney casino commenced operations last month under a probationary licence.

In June, The Star announced Tyro Payments boss Robbie Cooke would be its next chief executive. Cooke finishes up at Tyro in December and his appointment at The Star is still subject to regulatory approval.

“Robbie is a trusted, respected and highly experienced chief executive,” Star interim chairman Ben Heap said in an announcement to the ASX. “He has been the CEO of major ASX 200 listed companies and brings extensive commercial experience in operating and driving transformation programs within highly-regulated environments.”

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