Crown Resorts is set to learn the fate of its high-roller casino on Sydney’s harbour within days, as a former judge prepares to make recommendations about its fitness to run the gambling operation.
Patricia Bergin SC, a retired NSW Supreme Court judge, presided over the extraordinary inquiry which aired allegations that Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering, did business with groups that had organised crime links and had a dysfunctional culture that allowed these problems to fester.
Crown was forced to open its new Sydney tower at Barangaroo in December without the casino, which was to be its centrepiece. The regulator withheld the licence after the inquiry’s revelations, saying that it needed to see Ms Bergin’s findings before giving the casino the green light.
Ms Bergin’s terms of reference direct her to write and submit a report making findings and recommendations by Monday.
The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority appointed Ms Bergin to run the inquiry after the media aired scandalous allegations about Crown’s involvement with dodgy junket operators in China.
The other trigger was billionaire James Packer’s sale of one-fifth of Crown to Melco Resorts. Melco is run by Lawrence Ho, the son of controversial gambling kingpin Stanley Ho, whom the NSW government has forbidden Crown from dealing with.
Ms Bergin’s task was to report on whether Crown’s subsidiary was ’suitable’ to hold the licence for Sydney’s second casino, which it won in 2014 after a hard- fought political and public relations battle spearheaded by Mr Packer.
She has also been looking at whether Crown is able to be a close associate of the licensee.
If Ms Bergin finds Crown does not meet probity requirements, as the barristers assisting her argued she should, she must spell out what would have to happen to make Crown suitable.
During his three-day stand in the virtual witness box, Mr Packer himself suggested Ms Bergin may have to think about caps on shareholding, implicitly acknowledging he may be forced to sell his 36 per cent share in the company.
The former judge will also declare whether the Melco deal was a breach of the licence to run the Barangaroo casino or any other regulatory agreement.
The broad terms of reference allow Ms Bergin to report on “any matter reasonably incidental to these matters”.
At the heart of the inquiry was the towering influence of Mr Packer, who was once executive chairman of the gambling giant and still owns a sizeable chunk of the company.
The inquiry — which had strong powers of compulsion, akin to a royal commission — revealed that even after Mr Packer stepped down from the board in 2018, the CEO and board members fed him confidential financial information under a special agreement.
Counsel assisting the inquiry argued he had “extraordinary influence” over the company that was ultimately damaging.
Mr Packer admitted to “shameful” and “disgraceful” conduct while giving evidence, which the barristers argued made him personally unsuitable to be associated with the casino he campaigned to build.
The inquiry also raised questions about the independence of Crown’s board, the effectiveness of its anti-money laundering measures, and its embrace of risk.