Crown let man with $100k debt keep playing

·3-min read

Crown Melbourne has been accused of predatory behaviour after a royal commission revealed it allowed a gambler who could not repay a $100,000 debt to keep playing.

The high-roller was a roulette enthusiast who usually bet about $4000 per spin and was once allowed to gamble continuously for 26 hours and 23 minutes.

In May 2016 he exchanged a $100,000 cheque for chips at the Southbank casino and soon lost everything.

Then his cheque bounced.

But he was encouraged to keep on gambling at Crown Melbourne's Mahogany Room - reserved for heavy hitters - and told he could pay back the debt from his winnings.

After a lucky streak he paid back the arrears but then went even further into the red, owing the casino up to $1 million.

Counsel assisting Geoffrey Kozminsky on Tuesday told the inquiry into whether Crown can retain a licence for its Melbourne operations that casino staff were driven by "money above all else".

Mr Kozminsky accused the group of "predatory" and "irresponsible" behaviour by allowing the man to keep playing despite knowing he was steeped in debt.

Mr Kozminsky asked Crown Melbourne's VIP customer service manager Peter Lawrence if he agreed with this characterisation.

"Irresponsible - yes," Mr Lawrence responded.

"Predatory is a strong word, but possibly yes."

Mr Lawrence has run the Mahogany Room for the last nine years.

He revealed staff at the exclusive room regularly used promotions to lure punters back into the casino and almost never checked on their financial situation.

A former Mahogany Room customer corroborated this, saying casino staff never asked how gamblers were coping after major losses, or suggested they should take a break.

Meanwhile, Mr Lawrence could recall only once referring a high-roller who expressed concerns about their losses to the casino's responsible gaming team.

"There's a direct correlation between your profits and their losses," Mr Kozminsky put to Mr Lawrence.

"When left to balance the competing interests - profits or the welfare of customers in the Mahogany Room - you prioritise money. That's just the reality, isn't it?"

Mr Lawrence accepted Mr Kozminsky's assertion that money drove him and his staff "above all else".

But he said Crown Melbourne had from May 24 this year stopped allowing customers who owed gambling debts to enter the casino.

Mr Lawrence conceded this policy change was motivated by the royal commission.

The inquiry was told the Mahogany Room reaped between one and two billion dollars in the five years leading to 2020.

It also heard that Crown Melbourne frequently broke the law by allowing high-rollers to obtain chips through cheques made out to themselves.

The royal commission was set up by the Andrews Labor government after a NSW inquiry found Crown unsuitable to run its newly built casino in Sydney's Barangaroo.

It heard on Monday that Crown Melbourne could owe the Victorian government up to $167 million in unpaid gaming taxes.

The inquiry, now in its fourth week, continues on Wednesday.