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Fading star: Company behind Queens Wharf 'not suitable' to hold casino licence


Star Entertainment, the company behind the $3.6 billion Queens Wharf development and the Brisbane and Gold Coast casinos, is not fit to hold a casino licence, with the gambling giant only at the start of its journey on remedying corporate failings, an inquiry has been told.

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The NSW gaming regulator inquiry has examined claims the ASX-listed Star enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at The Star Sydney as part of assessing whether the venue should retain its casino licence.

The 36-day inquiry was told notorious gang-linked junket Suncity operated an illegal cage at the casino, that the venue flouted rules on the use of Chinese debit cards on which $900 million was transacted, and that Star staff lied to banks and did not do enough in dealings with regulators.

There was evidence that Star worked covertly to stop the public hearings taking place.

“We submit that the evidence in the public hearing establishes that The Star is not suitable to hold the casino licence and that its close associate Star Entertainment is not suitable either,” counsel assisting Naomi Sharp SC said in closing submissions on Tuesday.

Sharp said Star and its Sydney casino were only at the start of their journey “about what has gone wrong within these organisations”.

“There has not yet been the period of deep reflection which of course will be necessary in order to develop a concrete plan about what … can bring these corporations into a position of suitability,” she said.

She urged Adam Bell SC, who is helming the inquiry, to adopt the approach set out in the Finkelstein review of rival Crown Resorts that if “most norms” are infringed then a company’s “journey is at its end”.

Sharp outlined 26 areas she would address in closing argument, describing The Star Sydney’s casino licence as a privilege that conferred on the venue the ability to earn “very substantial revenue”.

“In exchange for that privilege, the casino operator is given a number of very important responsibilities,” she said.

Sharp said there was a lack of supervision in Star’s international VIP team, headed by John Chong and then Marcus Lim, with “certain shortcomings” existing on high-value patrons, and failures to notify Star’s board.

The inquiry has previously been told a Chinese-born high roller about whom The Star Sydney harboured potential money-laundering concerns turned over more than $2 billion at the venue.

There was also testimony of Star staff providing fake source of funds documents to the Bank of China in Macau.

Star’s legal team also came in for criticism, with Sharp pointing to its use of legal professional privilege and describing some Star legal practices as unethical and of “significant concern”.

On risk management, she described Star’s framework as containing “very serious” failings, saying risks were either not identified or not escalated.

These failures were in the international VIP team and within The Star Sydney, including in its Salon 95 and the venue’s possible underpayment of gaming duty.

Responsibility for risk shortcomings lay with internal casino divisions, senior management and the board, she said.

Other topics to be covered in closing included the credit of witnesses and an examination of whether Star failed to pay sufficient NSW gaming duties.

There has been a clean-out of Star top brass since the inquiry began, including chief executive Matt Bekier, chief financial officer Harry Theodore, chief casino officer Greg Hawkins, chief legal and risk officer Paula Martin and board chairman John O’Neill.

The Palaszczuk Government last week announced a crackdown on bad behaviour by casinos in this state, with new legislation that will contain penalties of up to $50 million.

It has introduced the Casino Control Amendment Bill, aimed at preventing criminal influence and exploitation in casinos. However, while it has claimed to have had a watching brief on the current inquiry in NSW into Star, the government has refused to hold its own public inquiry.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the planned new laws “seek to address concerns which have emerged from the public inquiries into casinos operated by Crown Resorts in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia as well as investigations underway into the Star Entertainment Group”.

Star Entertainment has been called to give evidence at a parliamentary inquiry into the proposed laws.

Legal Affairs and Safety Committee chair Peter Russo says Star and Townsville operator Reef have been asked to give evidence at the inquiry starting on July 11.

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