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Star boss denies ignoring COVID-19 closure

Star casino
Star Entertainment chairman John O'Neill is set to face an inquiry into the gambling giant. Photo: AAP
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A Star Entertainment boss has denied disregarding the closure of The Star Sydney during COVID-19 in assessing whether patrons qualified for a lower-taxed international rebate player program at the casino.

A NSW gaming regulator inquiry into the fitness of Star to hold a Sydney casino licence has so far prompted the resignation of Star CEO Matt Bekier, who stepped down last month after evidence given at the probe.

The inquiry was sparked by reports accusing Star of enabling suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its gaming venues.

Star’s chief casino officer for NSW, Greg Hawkins was grilled on international player oversight at the Sydney casino during its shutdown between March and June 2020 due to COVID-19.

The inquiry was told that to be eligible for the casino’s lower taxed international rebate program, players could not spend more than 183 days in Australia in a year, but counsel assisting Naomi Sharp SC suggested this was breached during the pandemic when international borders were shut.

Mr Hawkins received internal advice in September 2020, the inquiry was told, that anyone in NSW for more than 183 days should be transitioned to the “non rebate duty calculation” in order to comply with casino rules.

Evidence has previously been given that the casino paid the NSW government significantly less tax on international rebate play than on local state play.

“I understand that we could not disregard the casino closure days,” Mr Hawkins told the inquiry on Wednesday.

“But you did disregard them as it turns out, didn’t you? Ms Sharp asked.

“No,” the witness said.

“That’s not correct, is it?” the barrister then submitted.

“I don’t think I disregarded the closure days in my assessment,” he replied.

The inquiry was told that the NSW gaming regulator asked Star to assess the residency status of 14 patrons over the pandemic period, but that there were problems with the casino’s “rebate audit” on seven of those players.

“I accept that the checklist was missing for those customers,” Mr Walker said, telling the inquiry that casino workers did not think it had to be completed.

Ms Sharp then put to him: “What you’re saying respectfully Mr Hawkins makes absolutely no sense”.

Mr Hawkins conceded taking no steps to inform the regulator of the improperly completed process, telling the inquiry: “I’m unclear on what was notified”.

Mr Hawkins was previously a managing director at The Star Sydney, and has had a “lengthy career” in the casino industry including in Macau for Crown Resorts.

Other Star top brass set to testify this week are Harry Theodore and Mr Bekier.

The inquiry continues before Adam Bell SC.

– AAP