Crown makes final stand at Vic inquiry

Gus McCubbing and Benita KolovosAAP
Victoria is creating a new casino regulator, as the royal commission into Crown begins winding up.
Camera IconVictoria is creating a new casino regulator, as the royal commission into Crown begins winding up. Credit: AAP

Crown has made a last ditch effort to retain its Melbourne licence at the close of a bruising royal commission by arguing it is an integral part of Victoria’s economy.

In his closing submissions to the inquiry into whether Crown can retain a licence for its Melbourne operations, Michael Borsky QC said Crown had paid Victoria at least $1.4 billion in taxes since 2014.

He added that Crown Melbourne employed more than 12,500 people, and before COVID-19, it contributed about $1.2 billion to the Victorian economy every year, as well providing about 10 per cent of the city’s hotel rooms.

He said unless cancellation of the Southbank casino’s licence was deferred, “significant harm” would be caused to many people.

“It’s particularly important at this time, during the pandemic, where tourism and other economic activity is already so hampered ... (that) great care should be exercised before recommending anything that might adversely affect affect Melbourne and Victoria’s ability to advance its tourism industry,” Mr Borsky said.

However, Commissioner Ray Finkelstein QC was not convinced.

He said Crown Melbourne remained a profitable, if declining, business and therefore while its 12,500 employees may change employers, they were not at risk.

“Someone will always step in,” Commissioner Finkelstein said.

“When you have a profitable business ... there will be an operator out in the world, a suitable one.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Gaming Minister Melissa Horne announced a gambling regulation overhaul.

The new Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission will have oversight of all gaming in the state and follows a separate review into the current watchdog, which monitors gambling and liquor.

Ms Horne described merging liquor and gaming regulation as a “failed experiment of the past”.

A dedicated casino division will monitor Crown’s Southbank complex.

“What this will do is provide us with a sharp focus and a dedicated division in the new regulator that focuses directly on regulating the casino,” Ms Horne told reporters at parliament.

Legislation to split the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation will come before parliament by the end of 2021.

Crown Melbourne on Tuesday announced chief executive Xavier Walsh will step down on August 20 before leaving the company in December.

Mr Walsh, the inquiry heard previously, knew Crown Melbourne underpaid millions in Victorian gaming taxes for three years but did nothing about it until the day after the royal commission was announced.

Counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio SC previously told the inquiry Crown was unfit to hold a licence.

Commissioner Finkelstein will make his findings after hearing closing submissions from the State of Victoria, Crown, Crown chair Helen Coonan and the current regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

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