An inquiry into casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd’s suitability to hold a gaming licence in New South Wales, Australia, will be temporarily halted from Friday pending an appeal by that state’s attorney-general over a court judgment. That court decision said the inquiry did not have the powers of an Australian Royal Commission.
The inquiry’s head, former judge Patricia Bergin, told its Wednesday hearing that proceedings were likely to resume in mid-March. The public hearings started on Monday with testimony from a number of witnesses.
The New South Wales Supreme Court’s original decision on February 11 – following an approach by Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, an investor in Crown Resorts – said the inquiry does not have the power to see documents ordinarily regarded as legally-privileged.
Melco Resorts had successfully argued that New South Wales’ Casino Control Act did not make it clear that the state’s casino regulator, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, had the power – when convening an inquiry – to vest it with the same powers as a Royal Commission.
An appeal filed by the New South Wales attorney-general is set to be heard by the state’s Supreme Court on March 9, said on Wednesday Ms Bergin, adding that it was likely the court would make a decision “around March 16”.
“It is appropriate not to anticipate anything and only to fix a nominal date after the appeal is heard … and the witnesses will be notified in due course,” stated Ms Bergin.
Ms Bergin said while the inquiry had been able to proceed this week, the next round of hearings would involve evidence about the regulation and operation of casinos in Australia; and include witnesses from regulatory bodies and from casino operators. These witnesses include operational or compliance officers from Crown Resorts, Melco Resorts, and the Star Entertainment Group – the latter already an operator of a casino resort in Sydney, New South Wales.
“In the circumstances, and with due respect to the appellate process and the need for clarity in respect of those witnesses and the further processes of the inquiry and the further hearings after tomorrow [Thursday], those hearings will be adjourned for a short time,” Ms Bergin told the Wednesday hearing.
It had been expected that Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, chairman and chief executive of Melco Resorts, and James Packer – a Crown Resorts founder and shareholder – would attend the inquiry.
Melco Resorts said earlier this month it had decided not to pursue the purchase of a second, 10-percent tranche of shares in Crown Resorts, and it would not be seeking representation in the Australian firm’s board.
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”“The Royal Commission finds Crown is unsuitable to hold a casino licence [in Melbourne] on the basis that it has engaged in conduct that is ‘illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative'”
Report from the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence
State of Victoria, Australia