Crown Resorts is introducing “social distancing” at its Melbourne casino in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Crown said on Monday it would keep gamblers apart by switching off every second gaming machine and electronic table, barring standing players at seated table games, and restricting the number of players at stand-up table games to five. From March through June, Crown was forced to halt gaming activities and parts of other operations at its Melbourne and Perth locations, as government curbs were imposed to control the virus’ spread.
The Victorian Government is preparing to crack down on Crown Casino, with a special commissioner to be appointed to scrutinise the company's suitability to hold a licence in the wake of a series of allegations against and damning admissions from the gambling giant.
The next review of the Crown Casino's licence, which is conducted every five years, will be brought forward as part of the special commissioner's work.
It follows a concession from Crown to a New South Wales inquiry last month that some of its accounts have likely been used for money laundering.
The last licence review was completed in 2018.
Premier Daniel Andrews this morning dismissed criticism that the decision to appoint a sessional commissioner was a reflection on the track record of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR).
'It shouldn't be read down to be a criticism of the VCGLR, it's a dedicated and, if you like, bespoke piece of work. You need to know this industry in order to work out if those operating in it are fit and proper people,' Mr Andrews said.
In a statement to the stock exchange, Crown Resorts said it had 'actively engaged with the VCGLR in relation to the matters the subject of the ILGA Inquiry (in NSW), including on Crown's reform agenda'.
'Crown will continue to work cooperatively with the VCGLR to support this review.'
NSW has delayed granting Crown a licence for its new Sydney high-rollers casino at Barangaroo in the wake of the inquiry recommending the company is not fit to hold a licence.
That inquiry is due to hand down its findings in February.
However Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne said there was a need for an immediate response in Victoria given 'concerning evidence' presented to the NSW investigation.
'This review is needed given the evidence we've seen come out of the NSW inquiry,' she said.
'While we await the findings of that investigation, it's appropriate to bring forward the next review to ensure Crown Melbourne is suitable to hold a licence in Victoria.'
The review will report back to Ms Horne next year.
The Victorians Green have called for the casino to have its licence suspended immediately while the review is carried out.
'The Greens have repeatedly called on the State Government to curb Crown's unacceptable behaviour, but sadly it has taken a NSW inquiry to spur them to act,' party leader Samantha Ratnam said.
'Given the damning evidence coming out of the inquiry — including bags of cash under desks, tampering with poker machine controls and money laundering — Crown shouldn't be allowed to retain its Victorian licence while this investigation takes place.'
Crown criticised over junkets, fined over poker machine buttons
Crown has been the subject of a series of allegations of improper conduct in recent years, including those aired on the ABC. They have included allegations about tampering with buttons on Crown's poker machines for which the company was fined $300,000.
Whistleblowers have previously raised concerns about money laundering and a failure of the Victorian regulator to do its job.
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The Nine newspapers and 60 Minutes also featured a series of stories about organised crime links to lucrative foreign junket operators and issues around money laundering.
Up until now, the Andrews Government has backed the gambling regulator to keep checks on the casino despite widespread criticism the commission is toothless.
The VCGLR has been investigating the casino and the nation's anti-money laundering watchdog is also looking at the casino.
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The revelations in the NSW inquiry placed major pressure on the Victorian Government and the VCGLR to take the allegations seriously.
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A commissioner has yet to be appointed.