The illegal altering of buttons on poker machines at Melbourne’s casino was not a deliberate decision by Crown management, but a move carried out by a small group of staff without approval, Victoria’s gambling regulator says.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) has given Crown a $300,000 fine and a letter of censure, after it found blanking plates were placed over certain buttons on 17 poker machines in March and April last year.
Late last year, whistleblowers from the casino accused Crown of instructing staff to remove betting options from poker machines.
After initially denying the button-blanking allegations, Crown told the stock exchange that it had removed betting options on 17 of its 2628 machines over the three-week period for a trial.
In a statement, the regulator said the move had contravened gaming laws.
“The blanking plates concealed play line options so that only minimum and maximum betting options were available,” it said.
“The Commission considers that the way in which Crown used blanking plates in the trial constitutes a variation to the gaming machines and therefore required approval by the VCGLR, and that Crown’s failure to obtain approval means it has contravened the Gambling Regulation Act 2003.
“The contravention was not deliberate. The decision to conduct the trial was made by a small group of Crown staff who did not believe approval was required and who failed to consult internally, or with the VCGLR, to check whether approval was required before commencing the trial,” it said.
“Crown acted quickly to cease the trial following a complaint and before the matter was raised with the VCGLR.”
It found the trial did not affect the percentage of wagered money that was paid back to players.
Crown said it still maintained the trial did not require prior approval, but it respected the VCGLR’s decision.
Whistleblowers previously told the ABC they suspected the removal of buttons was aimed at increasing punter losses, by forcing them into making higher bets.
The letter of censure requires Crown to draft an updated compliance framework within the next six months, and explain how the updated framework will prevent future breaches.
The regulator said it was the largest fine ever handed to Crown.