Star conduct could be criminal: inquiry

·3-min read

Gambling giant Star Entertainment has potentially acted criminally as part of system failures and widespread mismanagement at its Sydney casino, an inquiry has been told.

Counsel assisting the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, Naomi Sharp SC, closed her argument on Friday on claims Star enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its Sydney casino.

Ms Sharp has argued that The Star Sydney and its ASX-listed owner are not suitable to hold a casino licence and are only at the start of a long journey to fix corporate failings in many areas of the embattled organisation.

Concluding her case on Friday, Ms Sharp submitted that the state's casino control act had been breached in Star's use of a controversial China Union Pay (CUP) debit card scheme and in its dealings with notorious Macau-based junket operator Suncity.

The inquiry has been told gang-linked Suncity ran an illicit cage at the casino's Salon 95 and that the venue dealt with the group even after becoming aware of a report linking it to triads, money laundering and drug trafficking.

Ms Sharp said there are also concerns that Star was prepared to create sham documents and mislead NAB about the CUP scheme.

There was evidence at the inquiry that the casino broke rules on CUP debit cards, with casino staff hiding CUP gaming transactions as hotel charges, and deceived NAB, which installed the terminals, about the process in correspondence.

About $900 million was swiped on CUP cards until it was stopped in 2020.

"There is a serious question about whether a criminal offence has been committed and that is an offence ... about obtaining financial advantage by deception," Ms Sharp said.

On the topic of gaming duties, the barrister said there was insufficient evidence Star moved patrons from its international to local program in a bid to minimise duties payable to the NSW government.

But she said there was evidence patrons were wrongly classified and Star may have failed to notify the authority of underpayments.

"There has been a complete absence of transparency in dealing with the regulator," she said.

Earlier, Ms Sharp pointed to Star as failing on risk management, anti-money laundering, junket due diligence and supervision in its international VIP business, noting profit often "won out" and cultural problems pervaded senior management.

Problems among the casino's top brass were dishonesty, lack of ethics, preparedness to court risk on regulatory non-compliance, a technical approach to laws, a "disdain" for the regulator and a readiness to mislead it, she said.

"We submit something has gone very seriously wrong within the culture of the senior ranks of Star Entertainment and of course The Star itself."

There has been a clean-out of senior management since the inquiry began, including chief executive Matt Bekier, chief financial officer Harry Theodore, chief legal and risk officer Paula Martin and board chairman John O'Neill.

Ms Sharp said it would take "some time" to unpack the reasons for Star's substantial cultural problems, and submitted that removing senior executives and board renewal was not enough.

"There must be root cause analysis to understand what has gone wrong," she said.

Ms Sharp criticised Star's board saying a "more active" approach to stewardship was needed at the embattled gaming company.

She said the gravity of problems at Star become apparent to the board after the public hearings, which have run from March, commenced.

"There has only been very limited time for the board and others within the organisation to reflect on what ... needs to be done," she said.

The inquiry was adjourned until June 14.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting