‘Cesspit of dishonesty’: Senior NSW Minister questions future of casinos
A senior government minister says NSW must reconsider the future of casinos in Sydney following revelations of wide-scale money laundering and criminal activity at The Star.
Cities and Infrastructure Minister Rob Stokes questioned whether the “illusory and ephemeral benefits” of casinos were worth the harm they inflicted on the community.
NSW Cities and Infrastructure Minister Rob Stokes.Credit:Kate Geraghty
“Perhaps it is time for our community to rise up against them,” Mr Stokes said of casino operators in a late-night private members’ statement on Tuesday.
“Now is the best time to ask the question: are the illusory and ephemeral benefits of Sydney’s casinos worth the proven harm – the deceit, the crime, the destroyed lives?”
Mr Stokes’ comments come amid a royal commission-style inquiry into casino giant Star, which has heard evidence of its failure to stop money laundering and organised crime risks in its casinos.
Damaging revelations, including $900 million worth of VIP gaming charges being disguised as hotel expenses, triggered the resignation of the casino group’s chief executive Matt Bekkier on Monday, with further casualties predicted.
Mr Stokes said a “veritable cesspit of dishonesty, tax evasion, junkets, money laundering” had been exposed by last year’s Bergin inquiry into Crown and should prompt NSW to reconsider the future of casinos entirely.
“Basically, everything we were warned about turns out to be entirely true.
“Revelations of tax evasion also completely undermine the argument that casino operations are justified on the basis of the revenue they provide to support wider social and community benefits,” he said.
“These impacts will generate a cascading series of consequences that should cause us to pose an existential question about the future of casinos in NSW.”
Star Entertainment Group CEO, Matt Bekier, resigned on Monday.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
Experts have also warned problems within the industry run deeper than revealed at the casino inquiry, with more than 200 people reported for suspicious gambling transactions at NSW pubs and clubs in less than six months.
Liquor and Gaming NSW has referred 211 people to law enforcement agencies since October last year after their gaming behaviour triggered a “suspicious transaction” report. A further 103 transactions are currently under investigation.
A spokesman for the regulator said flagged transactions were given a risk rating and referred to investigators to attend venues to identify potential money laundering activity and individuals involved.
The NSW government has been under pressure to reform the gambling sector after a separate inquiry into Crown casino last year also exposed misconduct and money laundering while assessing its suitability to hold a licence at Barangaroo.
A royal commission-style inquiry has been held into The Star. Credit:Louise Kennerley
Responding to the inquiry, the government committed to all 19 recommendations, including establishing a standalone casino regulator.
Minister for Hospitality and Racing Kevin Anderson said the government was aiming to establish the new regulator by the middle of this year with new legislation.
“The independent, standalone casino regulator will enhance the management of existing and emerging risks in the current casino regulatory environment, particularly the risks of money laundering and other financial crimes associated with casino activities,” he said.
While the inquiry into The Star is being conducted through public hearings, a separate probe by the NSW Crime Commission into money laundering at pubs and clubs is being held behind closed doors.
Upper house independent MP Justin Field said conducting a “largely secret” inquiry concealed from the public the extent to which criminal behaviour was going unhindered.
“The community deserves to be informed by a public inquiry, as we have seen with Crown and The Star,” he said.
“How many times do we need to be shown that casinos are where organised crime, big money and big politics come together at the expense of the public?” he said.
Chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform Tim Costello said it was “the height of secrecy and lack of transparency that we can know about Star but not the inquiry into pokies, pubs and clubs.”
He said the revelations at The Star inquiry were shocking but not surprising.
“Until someone loses a license, we will not clean up money laundering and crime,” he said.
Monash University Associate Professor and gambling researcher Charles Livingstone said The Star inquiry was the fourth such probe highlighting the casino industry as “rotten to the core”.
“Poor practice, reprehensible behaviour, exploitation, and association with criminal activities … and it appears to be endemic in the industry,” he said.
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