Crown Resorts executive chairman John Alexander has slammed allegations of impropriety by the casino operator as a media beat-up.
Mr Alexander – a former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review – addressed the claims at the company’s annual general meeting in Melbourne, slamming stories by Nine newspapers that made allegations against Crown that he claimed could not be independently verified.
“As someone who has 50 years experience in journalism and media management, and who was once editor-in-chief of both The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, I have never seen a quality news organisation publish a story it openly admits it hasn’t been able to verify,” Mr Alexander claimed.
He was referring to a report in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald about independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who wants a royal commission into Crown after several high-profile allegations against the James Packer-controlled firm.
The newspapers said Mr Wilkie would draw upon video testimony by a limousine driver who alleged a culture of drugs, prostitution and violence against women among VIP gamblers at Crown, but whose claims the newspapers were unable to corroborate.
Mr Alexander said Crown had “no case to answer” on shareholder disclosure, saying Crown took its continuous disclosure requirements very seriously.
Shareholder activist Stephen Mayne criticised Mr Alexander for failing to mention that the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity will hold a corruption inquiry into interactions between the Department of Home Affairs and Crown over fast-tracked visas for Crown’s VIP gamblers.
“This is the Australian government. It’s four public hearings, next week, at the Victorian County Court. You haven’t even mentioned this,” Mr Mayne said.
“You’ve just said it’s all rubbish, it’s all a media beat-up. What can you tell us about this federal government investigation into the integrity of our high-roller program with their visa systems?”
Mr Alexander had said earlier Crown could not go into detail about allegations but that it was co-operating with investigations by Victorian and NSW regulators and that it had a good record of co-operating with law enforcement.
Another shareholder and anti-gambling crusader Tim Costello asked Mr Alexander if he regretted so vehemently denying last year that Crown had tampered with its poker machines, “effectively sledging” Mr Wilkie, who levelled the allegations, when Crown was eventually fined $300,000 over the matter.
“So the denials obviously lacked credibility,” Mr Costello said.
“When will Crown say we did something wrong?”
Mr Alexander said the “blanking plates” placed over certain buttons at Melbourne poker machines were an “operational oversight, a mistake” and he didn’t regret Crown’s full-page newspaper ads rebutting the claims.
“The implication from Mr Wilkie’s allegations was that Crown was somehow tampering with its machines to reduce return to players, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr Alexander said.
In other matters, Mr Alexander said the construction of the $2.2 billion Crown Sydney six-star hotel and casino at Barangaroo was on schedule for opening in the first half of 2021.
Mr Alexander also said he had no idea how Crown’s talks with US casino giant Wynn Resorts over a takeover leaked in April, which led to Wynn abruptly ending its discussions about acquiring Crown.
All AGM resolutions passed, although 17.7 per cent voted against the renumeration report, and 22.7 and 27.1 per cent respectively opposed the re-election of directors Helen Coonan and Harold Mitchell.