SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian gambling powerhouse Crown is facing a raft of explosive allegations, including slot machine tampering and avoiding money-laundering scrutiny after whistleblower accounts were tabled in parliament on Wednesday (Oct 18).
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie submitted video evidence in Canberra from three former employees accusing Crown of rigging machines at its flagship Melbourne casino to work in its favour, including modifying buttons that allowed them to illegally auto-play.
The anonymous whistleblowers also claimed staff were encouraged to use different identity cards for transactions of more than AUD$10,000 (S$10,633) to avoid the scrutiny of Australia’s money-laundering watchdog.
“If these allegations are true, then Crown would be facilitating money-laundering for any number of nefarious reasons, like tax fraud, drug-running and even terrorism,” Wilkie said under parliamentary privilege that grants MPs legal immunity.
Crown Resorts, which is controlled by billionaire James Packer, denied any wrongdoing. “Crown rejects the allegations made today under parliamentary privilege by Mr Andrew Wilkie MP, as reported in the media, concerning the improper manipulation of poker machines and other illegal or improper conduct at Crown Casino in Melbourne,” it said in a statement.
“Crown calls on Mr Wilkie to immediately provide to the relevant authorities all information relating to the matters alleged.” The whistleblower assertions extended to the Victorian Commission for Gaming and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), the state gaming regulator, who the former employees alleged knowingly turned a blind eye to machine tampering.
The VCGLR, who is currently conducting its periodic five-year review of the casino’s licence, said it was looking into the allegations. “We take any claims of this type extremely seriously and they will be thoroughly investigated,” a VCGLR spokesperson said in a statement.
Wilkie, a long-time campaigner against illicit practices in the slot machine industry, known as poker machines in Australia, called on the government to open a parliamentary inquiry into the issue.
“I think we can all understandably be concerned that they could indicate systemic issues in the broader poker machine industry right around the country, and in other venues in other states,” he told reporters.
Shares in Crown, which operates casinos across Australia and the world, were down 7.4 per cent at AUD$10.88 during mid-afternoon trading.
Gambling addiction is a major problem in Australia. Advocates for reform estimate that people lose around AUD$12 billion a year – with losses spiralling since the first machines were built in 1953.
Last month gambling addict Shonica Guy launched a landmark case in the Federal Court against Crown and machine maker Aristocrat, alleging players are misled or deceived about their chances of winning.
A public inquiry in 2010 showed there were 115,000 “problem gamblers” in Australia whose habit can lead to serious health, family and financial issues. Another 280,000 were categorised as at “moderate risk”.