Australia casino accused of tampering with poker machines

Crown Resorts was alleged to have tampered with poker machines in a video of whistle-blowers that was shown in Parliament by a lawmaker.
Crown Resorts was alleged to have tampered with poker machines in a video of whistle-blowers that was shown in Parliament by a lawmaker.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Australia's Crown Resorts was yesterday accused of tampering with poker machines when a lawmaker tabled a video of whistle-blowers in Parliament, which sent shares of the casino firm sliding.

The allegations, which Crown has denied, prompted the gambling authorities in the state of Victoria, where its flagship casino is located, to say they would launch an investigation.

Independent Lower House member and anti-gambling campaigner Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege, which lets lawmakers make sensitive allegations without legal repercussions, to make the video public.

The accusations present a fresh headache for Crown, which is nearly half-owned by billionaire James Packer, after the arrest of more than a dozen employees in China caused it to retreat from an ambitious global expansion plan.

On the recording, unidentified people whose faces were heavily pixelated accuse Crown's casino in Melbourne of fixing poker machines by removing built-in controls designed to regulate gambling rates. They also allege that Crown encouraged customers to disguise their identities to avoid detection by anti-money-laundering agency Austrac, and that the casino failed to stop drug use and domestic violence on its premises.

"If the allegations are true, it does suggest that there is a systemic problem rather than a rogue individual," Mr Wilkie told a news conference. He added that he had verified the identities of the people on the video as former employees of Crown but declined to say how the video came to be made.

A former intelligence official, Mr Wilkie has long campaigned for a crackdown on slot machines.

Crown said in a statement that it rejected the allegations and that Mr Wilkie should "immediately provide to the relevant authorities all information relating to the matters alleged".

Crown shares fell 4 per cent yesterday, to give the biggest-listed casino operator outside China a market value of A$7.7 billion (S$8.2 billion).

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, which oversees Crown's Melbourne casino, is currently conducting a routine review of Crown's casino licence - one that it conducts every five years.

Crown recently received final government approval to expand beyond the cities of Melbourne and Perth, as well as to build a A$2 billion resort on the Sydney waterfront.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Australia casino accused of tampering with poker machines'. Print Edition | Subscribe