Crown Resorts will learn the fate of its high roller casino on Sydney Harbor in a matter of days as a former judge prepares to make recommendations on its suitability to conduct the gambling operation.
Patricia Bergin SC, a retired NSW Supreme Court judge, led the extraordinary investigation into allegations that Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering, did business with groups that organized crime links and had a dysfunctional culture, which allowed these problems to solidify.
Crown had to open its new Sydney Tower in Barangaroo in December without the casino that was supposed to be its centerpiece. The regulator withheld the license following the investigation’s revelations, saying it would need to see Ms. Bergin’s findings before giving the casino the green light.
Ms. Bergin’s mandate instructs her to draft and submit a report with results and recommendations by February 1st – this Monday.
The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority hired Ms. Bergin to conduct the investigation after the media made scandalous allegations about Crown’s involvement in seedy junk operators in China.
The other trigger was the sale of a fifth of the crown by billionaire James Packer to Melco Resorts. Melco is run by Lawrence Ho, the son of the controversial gambling king Stanley Ho, whom the NSW government has banned Crown from dealing with.
Ms. Bergin’s job was to report on whether Crown’s subsidiary was “fit” to own the license for Sydney’s second casino, which she won in 2014 after a highly competitive political and public relations battle led by Mr. Packer.
She also checked to see if Crown could be a close associate of the licensee.
If Ms. Bergin determines that Crown does not meet the likelihood requirements as argued by the attorneys supporting her, she must explain what would have to happen to qualify Crown.
During his three-day stand on the virtual witness stand, Mr. Packer himself suggested that Ms. Bergin may need to consider upper limits on participation in order to implicitly acknowledge that he may be forced to sell his 36 percent stake in the company.
The former judge will also explain whether the Melco deal constitutes a breach of the license to operate the Barangaroo casino or any other regulatory arrangement.
The general mandate enables Ms. Bergin to report “on all matters reasonably connected with these matters”.
At the center of the investigation was the enormous influence of Mr. Packer, who was once the chairman of the board of directors of the gambling giant and still owns a significant part of the company.
The investigation – which had a strong coercive force, akin to a royal commission – found that the CEO and board members continued to provide him with confidential financial information under a special agreement even after Mr. Packer left the board in 2018.
The attorney who supported the investigation argued that he had “extraordinary influence” on the company, which was ultimately harmful.
Mr. Packer admitted to being “shameful” and “shameful” while testifying what the lawyers argued that he was personally unfit to be associated with the casino he was campaigning for.
The investigation also raised questions about the independence of the Crown Board of Directors, the effectiveness of its anti-money laundering measures and risk appetite.