Australia's Crown Resorts hit by a second regulator over misconduct claims

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian regulator said on Friday it has begun disciplinary proceedings against casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd CWN.AX after media reports accused it of failing to vet foreign gamblers, a second watchdog to take action over the claims.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Australian casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd adorns the hotel and casino complex in Melbourne, Australia, June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

The state regulator of Victoria, where Crown has its flagship casino in the city of Melbourne, said it had asked the company to explain why it should not be punished “for failing to ensure that controls regarding junket participants were implemented”.

Junkets are tours arranged by third parties to bring gamblers into casinos, often from China where gambling is banned.

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) said it would decide on disciplinary action based on Crown’s response, including a possible fine or order the company to take its own corrective action.

Australia has a piecemeal regulatory system of vetting junket operators and their clients, but the authorities generally expect casino operators to have their own controls to protect against money laundering and organised crime.

A Crown representative was not immediately available for comment.

The action rounds off a bruising week for the company founded and one-third owned by billionaire James Packer, who acknowledged a host of corporate governance shortcomings at an inquiry in neighbouring New South Wales state where Crown plans to open a new casino in Sydney.

In 2019, a series of Australian media reports accused Crown of doing business with tour operators with links to organised crime, among other allegations denied by the company at the time. That set off probes in both states.

The NSW inquiry, which involves public hearings, is underway and due to issue its final report in February 2021, but the Victorian regulator has ended its investigation, a spokesperson said in an email.

The topics the Victorian regulator investigated included “how internal controls at Crown could be strengthened to better ensure that the management and operation of the casino remains free from criminal influence or exploitation”, it added.

After the media reports, Crown took out full-page newspaper advertisements attacking the coverage as part of a deceitful campaign. But at the NSW inquiry Packer and top Crown executives acknowledged some assertions in the advertisements were incorrect.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Shri Navaratnam