News National Call for tough watchdog as Crown fallout spreads
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Call for tough watchdog as Crown fallout spreads

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Pressure is mounting for the introduction of an independent national casino watchdog after Crown was found unfit to run a new multibillion-dollar casino in Sydney.

Anti-gambling campaigners have further called for the suspension of the gaming giant’s Melbourne and Perth licences.

Crown boss Helen Coonan has apologised after former NSW Supreme Court Justice, Commissioner Patricia Bergin uncovered a litany of failures, including money laundering.

“We do not underestimate the scale of the problem and appreciate there is a need for ‘root and branch’ change,” she said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange on Thursday.

“This change has commenced.”

Former AFL chief Andrew Demetriou is the latest to step down from the Crown Resorts board, making him the fourth director to fall on his sword following CEO Ken Barton’s resignation on Thursday.

Mr Demetriou tendered his resignation on Thursday, The Australian reports, saying in a statement he was stepping down “to give Crown the best possible chance of becoming suitable to the NSW regulator”.

“In taking this decision I believe the comments directed at me in the report are unfair and unjust and I will defend my reputation at every opportunity,” he said.

Shareholder activist Stephen Mayne called for a tough national casino regulator.

“It’s ridiculous that we’ve got all of these different state governments who all have under-resourced parochial regulators,” Mayne said.

“We need one decent kick-arse federal casino regulator and then they can knock Crown into shape and have all their money laundering practices and their associations with criminals removed.”

Commissioner Bergin recommended NSW’s casino laws be overhauled so no individual shareholder can hold more than a 10 per cent interest in a casino licensee without approval from the state’s casino regulator.

James Packer has a 37 per cent stake in Crown.

Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello called for the suspension of Crown’s casino licences in Melbourne and Perth.

“If Crown is not a fit and proper person in Sydney, Crown is not a fit and proper person in Melbourne and Perth because the evidence before the Bergin inquiry was mainly from Melbourne and Perth,” Reverend Costello said.

“There should be an independent casino commission because that gets rid of the politicians.

“Crown has sweetheart deals with both sides of politics so it can operate like the Vatican as an independent state.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has said Crown Melbourne may need its own separate regulator.

“Casino regulation may need its own bespoke authority … that is something we have been giving some thought to for a while now,” Mr Andrews said.

Reverend Costello said the premiers in Victoria and Western Australia have been humiliated over the Crown scandal.

“Every Victorian, and I assume Western Australian, are saying ‘how could this have been under our nose, where is our regulator, where is our premier?” he said.

“If guns are America’s blind spot, the world knows gambling is Australia’s blind spot,” Reverend Costello said, pointing out that Australia has the highest per capita gambling losses in the world.

Commissioner Bergin said the introduction of a cashless gaming card, which would require gamblers to prove their identity, would help combat money laundering and help problem gamblers.

Reverend Costello said Commissioner Bergin’s comments about the cashless card were a “time bomb” for the pokies industry.

One of Australia’s leading gambling researchers, Monash University associate professor Charles Livingstone said each person with a serious gambling problem impacts at least six other people, with the fallout including neglect of children, divorce, suicide in some cases and an increased rate of domestic violence and criminal activity.

“What you are looking at is a ripple effect across society,” Dr Livingstone said.

The lucky country? Australians are the biggest losers in gambling, per capita, in the world. Photo: Getty

There are about 250,000 people across Australia at any one time with a serious gambling problem and a further 300,000 to 400,000 people who have a moderate affliction.

“What you are looking at is probably three million people at any single moment who are being directly affected quite adversely,” Dr Livingstone said.

Board members Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston have resigned and Crown ended its consultancy with third board member, John Poynton.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority will meet on Friday to start its assessment of whether Crown Resorts can make the changes needed to become fit to operate the new $2 billion casino at Barangaroo, which has already been built.

Authority chair Philip Crawford agreed the sacking of chief executive Ken Barton and board member Andrew Demetriou would be a good start to change at the top.

“There needs to be changes at the top and in senior management, a lot of board changes, and that’s started already and we look forward to seeing a bit more of that,” Mr Crawford told ABC Radio.

GamingNSW was contacted for comment.