A Crown Resorts director and former senior public servant says she regrets signing on to an ASX statement and full-page newspaper advertisement in which the casino business made false claims about its relationships with Chinese junket operators.
She also admitted that with hindsight, the casino operator did not have an adequately robust or reliable process for weeding out dodgy junket operators.
Non-executive director Jane Halton on Thursday continued giving evidence at the NSW gaming regulator’s inquiry into whether Crown is suitable to operate a new casino in Sydney.
It follows media allegations last year that Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering by organised crime figures, and the attempted sale of 19.99 per cent of its stock from mogul James Packer’s private company to Melco Resorts.
Melco was run by the son of since-deceased Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, with whom Crown was banned from associating by the NSW government.
Following the 60 Minutes report, Crown’s board of directors issued a statement to the ASX on July 31, 2019 arguing it had a “robust process for vetting junket operators”.
The directors also said the parent company of Crown’s high-roller gambling junket partner SunCity was regulated and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, which was not correct.
Crown added it no longer dealt with any of the junket operators named in the 60 Minutes program, bar one local company, and said the operators were fully independent.
Crown placed the statement in the pages of several Australian newspapers as a full-page ad.
Ms Halton admitted to the inquiry on Thursday she now knew the statement to be false and felt pressured at the time to sign on alongside Crown’s other directors – including former AFL chief Andrew Demetriou and former federal Liberal Senator Helen Coonan.
Ms Halton – on the board since 2017 – insisted she believed the statement to be true at the time and suggested she had received flawed information from Crown’s management.
“Recognising it was a crisis, I would’ve chosen a different mechanism for communication,” Ms Halton said under questioning from counsel assisting Naomi Sharp SC.
“I accept (now) it was not robust.”
Ms Halton added she no longer retained confidence in Crown’s Australian Resorts chief Barry Felstead or chief legal officer Joshua Preston, but stood by chief executive officer Ken Barton.
However, she disputed Mr Packer’s earlier characterisation of Crown’s arrangements with junket operators as “partnerships”, saying partnerships implied relationships of equality. SunCity had a dedicated high-roller room inside Crown’s Melbourne casino.
Ms Halton on Wednesday told the inquiry the Crown board had made inroads on addressing failures that contributed to the 2016 arrest of Crown staff in China, but denied on Thursday that Crown had failed to “heed warnings signs” for the arrests.
Her evidence follows appearances from major shareholder and former executive chairman, Mr Packer, other board members, and senior executives.
Former Senator Coonan is due to give evidence after Ms Halton.