The NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) has published Adam Bell SC’s report, which found The Star unsuitable to hold a casino licence in NSW.
The NICC is made up of commissioners who are former Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) board members and who were on ILGA’s casino committee, overseeing the Crown Resorts remediation program and the Bell Review into The Star.
The Bell Review was established to assess The Star’s suitability to hold a casino licence and to examine compliance with its legal obligations. In September 2021, the Authority announced it would appoint Adam Bell SC to undertake a review of The Star and its Sydney casino.
The Star has now been issued with a show cause notice by the NICC, which is now considering its options for disciplinary action in response to Bell’s findings and recommendations. The Bell Review comprises three volumes of findings and recommendations totalling over 940 pages.
In its opening comments on recommendations, the Review states: ‘It has been found that The Star is presently unsuitable to be concerned in or associated with the management and operation of a casino in NSW. The Updated Terms of Reference do not authorise any assessment of what, if any, changes would be required to render The Star suitable if it was found to be unsuitable. That is a matter for determination by the Authority.’
The review then goes on to make more than 30 recommendations regarding the future operation of the casino.
NICC Chief Commissioner, Philip Crawford, said while the majority of The Star’s 8000 employees were doing the right thing, the report identified systemic governance, risk and cultural failures at the Sydney casino.
“The report is, quite frankly, shocking. It provides evidence of an extensive compliance breakdown in key areas of The Star’s business,” Crawford said.
“Not only were huge amounts of money disguised by the casino as hotel expenses, but vast sums of cash evaded anti-money laundering protocols in numerous situations, most alarmingly through Salon 95 – the secret room with a second cash cage.
“In addition to Bell’s analysis of the very real risks of criminal infiltration and the concealment with which senior staff conducted business, the report details cases of individual patrons exposed to gambling harms.
“The Star offered free alcohol to VIPs as an inducement to gamble and allowed vulnerable patrons to gamble continuously for more than 24 hours at a time, without intervention. These personal accounts are jarring and illustrate how unrestrained gambling can go from entertainment to exploitation.
“We are in the process of taking stock of the report’s content. There are a range of implications across 30 recommendations that need to be worked through.
“Once we have given The Star the opportunity to respond to the notice, we will be in a position to determine an appropriate disciplinary approach.
“The NSW Government’s recent reforms have enhanced the regulatory apparatus with which to act on Bell’s report and our options include loss of licence, suspension, monetary penalties, and/or appointment of a manager.
“The NICC has all the tools it needs at its disposal to respond to Bell’s recommendations, and we will develop an approach that is proportionate to the seriousness of the report.”
Under new laws that came into force on 5 September, the NICC can fine operators up to $100 million. These increased penalties can be imposed retrospectively for serious breaches already committed in NSW.
The NICC can also hold individual board members and executives liable for serious wrongdoing they facilitated, or knew about, but failed to stop. It can take direct disciplinary action against individuals for breaches they commit, and fine them up to $1m, rather than only being able to sanction casino operators.
A show cause notice has been issued, which states The Star has 14 days to show cause “why disciplinary action should not be taken against The Star on the grounds for disciplinary action specified in this notice”.
The notice states disciplinary action means any one of more of the following actions in relation to The Star’s casino licence:
- The cancellation or suspension of the licence,
- The imposition on the casino operator of a pecuniary penalty of up to $100 million,
- The amendment of the terms or conditions of the licence (other than under section 22),
- A requirement that a casino operator, or a close associate of a casino operator, give an undertaking (an enforceable undertaking) to do or refrain from doing something,
- The issue of a letter of censure to the casino operator.
The Shout has contacted The Star for comment, and while it has not yet responded, on an ASX announcement The Star stated: “The NICC has served a ‘show cause’ notice on The Star. The Star intends to respond to the notice within 14 days. The Star is currently considering the [Bell] Report and the matters raised in the notice.”