The Victorian government has announced a royal commission for Crown Melbourne after Bergin's investigation into Crown's casino license in Sydney earlier this month led to the damned results.
The investigation found that Crown Sydney Gaming was "an unsuitable person" to operate the Sydney Casino.
Crown Resorts was also found to be "unfit to be a close associate of the licensee", indicating the infiltration and exploitation of Crown's operations in Melbourne and Perth by "criminal elements, likely including international criminal organizations".
Read more: & # 39; Not suitable & # 39 ;: Where to now for the other James Packer and Crown casinos?
Last week the West Australian government announced an investigation into the operation of the Perth Casino. Now it's Victoria's turn.
The Victorian Royal Commission will specifically look into the suitability of Crown Resorts Ltd (the parent company) to operate the Melbourne Casino. The mandate is closely focused on Crown's compliance with Victorian laws and regulations, rather than focusing on regulation in a broader sense.
What about the existing regulation?
The royal commission appears to be a vote of confidence in the Victorian gambling authority. The Victorian Gambling and Alcohol Commission has already conducted at least three investigations into Crown. This includes a review of Bergin's findings and a review announced following the 2019 media revelations on links to organized crime. There is also a regular casino licensee review released starting in 2023.
photo:: Michael Dodge / AAP
On the other hand, Commissioner Patricia Bergin recommended in her report that the regulation of casinos be carried out by an independent casino commission. She also said that this body should be armed with the forces of a standing royal commission.
The logic here is that conventional regulators are unable to properly investigate and demand evidence of the functioning of a business that is a magnet for criminal involvement and money laundering.
Don't forget pokies
Of course, any proper gambling regulation investigation must go well beyond what is happening in casinos.
Poker machines in Australian clubs and pubs bring players around A $ 13 billion annually, more than double the $ 5 billion lost in casinos. Much of what is lost in casinos goes to poker machines. Damage and money laundering are also rampant in suburban pubs and clubs.
Crown, perhaps more than other venues, is a place of gambling damage. There are over 2,600 poker machines, each of which makes about $ 170,000 a year, or a total of $ 462.7 million, according to Crown's annual report. The "high rollers" are the cream on the profitable "grind" of the ground floor – the term casino operator applies to their regular customers.
There are nearly 200,000 poker machines operating in other casinos and suburban clubs and pubs across Australia. These are also magnets for money laundering and tax evasion. This may be smaller individually, but overall it is as big an issue as those identified at Crown.
This is easiest in NSW, where poker machines have a "load limit" of $ 7,500. Laundering drug profits or cash payments is as easy as a quick visit to the local club.
Certainly any review of Crown's eligibility must consider how the casino is complying with its legal obligation to responsibly provide gaming.
There is certainly evidence that this is a major problem for Crown. It was previously fined for tampering with poker machines and reprimanded by Victorian regulators for failing to take damage minimization seriously.
Too big to fail?
Crown is touted as a great employer, contributor to tax revenue, and a major entertainment and tourist destination.
It may be all of these, but on employment, the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that as of November 2020, 26,000 people were involved in gambling across Australia while the creative and performing arts sectors employed 50,000.
As a contribution to tax revenue, the Bureau of Statistics also contributed less than 1% of Victoria's state tax revenue in 2018-19, or about $ 228 million, according to Crown. Lotteries have contributed more than twice as much and poker machines in clubs and pubs almost five times as much.
It is entirely possible that the net worth of the operation to Victoria is overrated, to say the least.
On Monday, the Victorian government said it would “legislate” later that year to “put the royal commission's findings into effect”. It also said it started setting up an independent casino regulator.
This would be a solid move, but it must also include regulating all forms of gambling. There is no doubt that Crown's misconduct in Melbourne and Perth apparently went undetected for so long because regulation has been undersupplied, underfunded, and often undermined by political parties of both core beliefs.
There is also no doubt that legal and regulatory violations by suburban pubs and clubs go undetected. There is ample evidence that the requirements to protect people from harmful gambling habits are not being met, even by Australia's largest operators.
What happens next?
Melbourne's Crown Royal Commission has to report by August. This is an ambitious timeline.
In the meantime, it will be fascinating to watch Crown redesign itself, as promised by chairwoman Helen Coonan, who is now also CEO.
Read more: Australia still has a long way to go to play responsibly
What will be even more fascinating is whether the other inquiries, reviews and assessments that are also being carried out are actually making any real change.
Only when the regulator, the regulatory system and the legislation that underpins it all are robust, with adequate power supplies and resources will there be real change.
Until then, we can expect periodic scandals to devour gambling providers and the machinery of gambling to damage production.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation.