Interim appointments announced

The Star suspends VIP rebate play programs; three execs resign amid damning inquiry into Sydney casino

Reading time 2:19 min

Australian gaming giant Star Entertainment Group has suspended all domestic and international VIP rebate play programs and confirmed a commitment to not dealing with junkets, according to an ASX announcement. The decision comes as the company addresses issues arising from an ongoing review of The Star Sydney, which has now led three executives to resign from the venue after the inquiry heard allegations of serious crime.

The Star’s board has resolved to “immediately suspend” all rebate programs for players across all casinos “until further notice.” The company further pledged to work with gaming regulators to address the various identified risks as part of the ongoing review, and said it has engaged external advisors and continues a program of work to improve systems and processes.

The company first ended all junket programs in October 2020, a decision now reconfirmed. In light of the Covid-related impacts on this part of the business, the decision to suspend rebate programs is not expected to have any material impact on earnings for FY22, the ASX announcement reads.

Additionally, the casino operator has now accepted the resignations of Harry Theodore, Chief Financial Officer; Greg Hawkins, Chief Casino Officer (NSW); and Paula Martin, Chief Legal & Risk Officer and Company Secretary. The inquiry into the company’s suitability to run its Sydney venue has heard allegations of serious money laundering, fraud and criminal infiltration at the casino.

Former CEO Matt Bekier resigned in March

“They will work with the Executive Chairman to transition their respective executive responsibilities in an orderly manner and an executive search firm will commence the search for permanent appointments,” The Star announced on Monday. The departures follow the resignation of former CEO Matt Bekier in March.

As part of its transition phase, the company has made two interim appointments, subject to regulatory approvals: Christina Katsibouba (Interim Chief Financial Officer) and Geoff Hogg (Interim Chief Casino Officer NSW & Qld). “Other interim appointments will be announced once finalized,” the business said.

On Monday, former director of Macquarie Bank Richard Sheppard became the first director to appear before the inquiry following six weeks of public questioning of executives, reports ABC. Sheppard was accused of being “careless” in not checking facts before approving ASX updates, and the inquiry heard he approved two statements in October that rebuffed media reports that stated a KPMG report into The Star’s anti-money laundering program was “kept secret.”

The Star Sydney

Sheppard said he wasn’t aware of financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC having repeatedly asked for the KPMG report and The Star's refusal to provide it. He also confirmed John O’Neill, who is set to face questions this week, would remain executive chair for the time being.

The inquiry, which is led by Adam Bell, SC, heard evidence of a secret junket room set up at the casino and that senior managers turned a blind eye to money-laundering risks. The casino operator has been described as allowing millions of dollars to illegally flow through the venue, such as disguising as hotel expenses A$900 million ($676 million) of withdrawals on Chinese debit cards to fund gambling.

The company has also been accused of having misled the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority and the National Australia Bank. These accusations have led to a class action being filed on behalf of investors, which seek compensation for misleading representations Star made about its compliance.

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