Crown in last-minute overhaul as inquiry targets gambling addiction ‘failures’

Crown Resorts has pledged to overhaul its responsible gambling program in what Victoria’s royal commission into the casino has heard is an 11th-hour admission it has failed to limit the harm gambling addicts experience on its gaming floors.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Adrian Finanzio said on Tuesday morning that there was evidence of serious failings by Crown to implement its responsible gaming code of conduct, which is a requirement of its Melbourne casino licence.

Crown had the technology and money to do more to limit the harm caused by gambling addiction at its sprawling Melbourne casino but it appeared that “motivation may have been lacking”, Mr Finanzio said.

The inquiry heard that last Thursday night, Crown’s lawyers wrote to the commission informing it that Crown’s Helen Coonan-led board had resolved to implement a “suite of changes” to its responsible gambling program, including putting gambling time limits for players and putting more staff on its gaming floors to monitor for gambling harm.

“Some of the measures outlined as areas for proposed changes concern practices of Crown which have been for a long time obviously inconsistent with fostering responsible gaming,” Mr Finanzio said.

“In other words the letter promises to stop things which, on one view, should never have been happening in the first place.

“The changes now proposed amount to an implied admission that some of Crown’s practices, some quite recent practices, are inconsistent with the responsible service of gaming.”

Mr Finanzio said the timing of Crown’s decision to overhaul its responsible gambling regime – at the 11th hour before a week of royal commission hearings on the topic – should not go without remark.

Mr Finzanio said there were “obvious and systemic inadequacies in the policies, systems and resources” Crown deployed to minimise gambling harm, which produced “continual examples of inaction where the code demands action”.

“It would be open for the commission to conclude that Crown’s various failures to implement the code are serious and persistent,” he said.

The commission had requested minutes from the May 24 board meeting that resolved to implement the changes and documents outlining the new plan, but Crown had not produced it, he said.

Mr Finanzio told Commissioner Ray Finkelstein that evidence before the inquiry suggested that people who gambled at Crown Melbourne – the state’s largest gaming venue – were three times more likely to experience gambling harm than those who gamble at other venues in Victoria.

Submissions to the inquiry contained evidence of gambling addicts being driven to suicide, and first-hand accounts of Crown patrons falling victim to loan sharks and then being forced into drug smuggling and prostitution to pay their debts, Mr Finanzio said.

The inquiry continues on Tuesday with Crown’s group general manager of responsible gaming Sonja Bauer to give evidence.