estern Australia upgraded an inquiry into Crown Resorts to a high-powered Royal Commission on Friday, saying it needed to ensure there were sufficient legal protections to examine Crown's suitability to run its casino at Burswood.
The decision means that the company, one-third owned by billionaire James Packer, will face Royal Commissions in two Australian states simultaneously, just as it seeks to rebuild its management following a separate inquiry that saw its CEO and five directors leave in the past month, as reported by Reuters.
An inquiry into Crown’s plans to open a new casino in Sydney last month found it was unfit to hold a gambling licence due to allegations it dealt with tour operators linked to organised crime, failed to protect staff jailed in China for breaking that country’s anti-gambling laws, and had “dysfunctional” leadership dominated by Packer.
The states where Crown already has casinos subsequently announced their own inquiries, with Victoria choosing a quasi-judicial Royal Commission and Western Australia picking a less powerful format. Before the upgrade to a Royal Commission, the Western Australian inquiry had the powers of a Royal Commission but the commissioner did “not have the immunities and protections afforded by the Royal Commissions Act”, the state’s Attorney General John Quigley told reporters.
A Royal Commission would “provide the next State Government with a thorough and independent examination” of Crown and the state’s regulatory system, Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia added in a statement.
Crown Chair Helen Coonan said the Royal Commission was an opportunity for the company to “detail the reforms and changes to our business to deliver the highest standards of governance and compliance, and an organisational culture that meets community expectations.”
Royal Commissions are Australia’s most powerful type of inquiry where investigators can compel witnesses to testify. They typically end with a report that may include recommendations for referrals to law enforcement agencies.
The Western Australia Royal Commission would be required to deliver an interim report by June, and its final report by Nov. 14, making it longer than the Victorian inquiry which runs to August. The royal commission will be run by three commissioners — former WA Supreme Court judges Lindy Jenkins and Neville Owen, and former WA auditor-general Colin Murphy.
The inquiry will also examine the performance of the GWC — WA's casino watchdog — and deliver its findings in the interim report.