Crown’s $210 million JobKeeper bill should be scrutinised in Victoria’s wide-ranging royal commission, independent state senator and Reason Party leader Fiona Patten has said.
Millions of dollars in federal wage subsidies are still flowing into Crown’s Melbourne casino even after the Victorian government called a royal commission into allegations of widespread criminal activity at the gambling giant.
Ms Patten said this should be interrogated by former federal court judge Raymond Finkelstein as he prepares his investigation into Crown Melbourne.
“Given the appalling behaviour that we’ve seen with our own eyes, nothing should be off the table,” she told The New Daily.
“[Crown] has operated with impunity and has been rarely challenged.”
The gambling giant is reeling after a history of alleged criminal activity – from money laundering to organised crime links – was aired by a NSW inquiry in recent months.
The Bergin Inquiry deemed Crown unfit to hold a casino licence in New South Wales after revealing criminal syndicates had infiltrated high roller activities, forcing the Western Australian and Victorian governments to set up their own inquiries after years of turning a blind eye to alleged criminal activity.
But, so far, there’s been little focus on the $210 million in JobKeeper that Crown received over the past year, 64 per cent of which was taken by its casino in Melbourne.
Used to pay wages during coronavirus lockdowns, the subsidies are almost equal to the $203 million interim dividend that Crown’s board paid to shareholders about a month after the first JobKeeper payments started flowing.
Much of that board, which also received a $218,000 pay increase last financial year, has since resigned as the company’s scandals deepen.
Federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie, an anti-pokies advocate, said the Morrison government shouldn’t have handed Crown any money.
“Any company, including gambling companies, should not have been eligible for JobKeeper if it was financially viable enough to pay dividends,” Mr Wilkie told The New Daily via text.
Ms Patten recognised that Crown staff were paid under JobKeeper, but maintained the company’s moral compass was well off the mark.
“This is not a new issue, but governments love the gambling revenue that Crown delivers, and they love the employment,” Ms Patten said.
“What Judge Finkelstein is going to find is exactly what NSW found.”
So serious are the allegations against Crown that it could lose its casino licence later this year when Judge Finkelstein hands down his report.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said as much on Tuesday, confirming he would tear up the licence if the August 1 report recommended it.
“This is a royal commission to determine whether they’re fit to hold that licence,” Mr Andrews said. “It’s going to be a rigorous process.”
Meanwhile, Crown’s interim executive chair Helen Coonan will be paid $2.5 million to turn around the company.
But the gambling giant is yet to offer taxpayers a single cent in reimbursements.
Crown not the only gambling company on JobKeeper
Crown is not the only gambling business to receive JobKeeper, though.
The New Daily has tracked $390 million in payments to such companies so far, and that’s only counting those that are forced to publish accounts on the ASX.
Star Entertainment Group – owner of casinos in Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast – has raked in $167.8 million in JobKeeper cheques.
It helped the company fuel normalised profits worth $239.3 million over the past 18 months, although no dividends were paid over that time.
Meanwhile, Betting giant TAB took $12 million in JobKeeper last year and earlier this month announced a whopping $166 million interim dividend.
JobKeeper helped TAB book a $185 million December-half profit and a $220 million profit (excluding impairments) last financial year.
But neither TAB or Star Entertainment have pledged to pay back taxpayers.
These gaming businesses are part of a much larger cohort of more than 50 publicly listed profitable companies that have taken big JobKeeper cheques.
The list grows longer as corporate reporting season wages on, but The New Daily is tracking markets closely and will publish a full rundown soon.
Crown was approached for this story but declined to comment.