New South Wales regulator sets date for The Star hearings

| By Marese O'Hagan
The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (New South Wales ILGA) has announced that hearings into whether The Star Casino is a suitable licensee will begin on 17 March.

The hearings, which will be carried out virtually, will be conducted by Adam Bell, senior council, and will form part of a review launched by the the New South Wales ILGA in October 2021.

The ILGA noted that the review had “largely been undertaken in private” so far, but added that Bell believed certain topics required evidence to be given publicly.

Philip Crawford, chair of the New South Wales ILGA, explained that the review was to evaluate The Star’s suitability to hold continue holding a casino licence in the state.

“Mr Bell’s review will consider how effectively The Star is complying with its statutory obligations and whether it remains suitable to hold a casino licence,” said Crawford.

“This includes examining to what extent the casino is free from the infiltration of criminal interests such as money laundering and how well it is administering its obligations to minimise gaming harms.”

The hearings will form the conclusion of the review. Bell will announce his findings in June this year.

“We have every confidence that the review will thoroughly investigate The Star’s current operations, compliance with its statutory obligations, and make appropriate recommendations for remedial action if necessary,” Bell added.

In addition to the state regulatory authority, The Star is also under investigation from the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac).

In January it was announced that this money laundering investigation into The Star, which had been launched in September 2021, was being expanded.

In October 2021 Star Entertainment dismissed reports that it had allegedly overlooked a KPMG report regarding money laundering failings at the business.

The Australian casino industry has faced a number of inquiries in recent years, with rival operator Crown also being subject to major scrutiny.

Crown was deemed “unsuitable” to operate a casino in Victoria in October last year. However, it was allowed to hold onto its licence.

As a result of this Crown Melbourne was made to pay a AUD$22.5m fine– $12.5m towards the costs of the inquiry and a Casino Supervisory Levy of $5m in 2021 and 2022.

This itself followed the Bergin Inquiry, a review led by the ILGA following Asian gaming giant Melco Resorts & Entertainment’s acquisition of Crown Holdings shares.

It evaluated Crown’s eligibility to have a casino licence in at Barangaroo in Sydney, concluding that it was unsuitable after evidence of money laundering failures and engagement with criminal organisations was uncovered. The inquiry added that the operator may be able to operate a casino at its Sydney venue if it implements changes, however.

The Bergin Inquiry saw the New South Wales set up a number of reviews which could lead to reforms that support anti-money laundering efforts.

An inquiry assessing Crown’s suitability to operate a casino in Perth, is set to conclude this month.

The Star submitted an AUD$12bn merger bid for Crown Resorts in May 2021. This was withdrawn in July, with The Star citing regulatory issues with Crown in Victoria.

Last month Crown accepted a AUD$8.9bn takeover bid from private equity group Blackstone, almost one year after Blackstone’s $8.02bn offer was rejected.