By Ben Blaschke
Australia’s Crown Resorts faces heavy sanctions including the possible suspension of its gaming license at Crown Melbourne after local gaming regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, informed the company it may have breached the Gambling Regulation Act.
The Commission revealed on Monday that it has commenced disciplinary proceedings against Crown for the use of “blanking buttons” on a limited number of electronic gaming machines last year, effectively limiting the number of betting options of players using those machines. Possible sanctions pending a final decision on the severity of the breach range from a letter of censure or a fine to the suspension or cancellation of the casino operator’s gaming license.
Crown was quick to deny the allegations, claiming instead that it had blanked buttons as part of a legal trial and that the practice had been limited to only 17 of its 2,628 ETGs.
In a filing to the Australian Securities Exchange on Monday afternoon, Crown said, “The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has informed Crown Melbourne Limited that, in the view of the Commission, a trial conducted by Crown Melbourne involving the use of blanking buttons on a limited number of electronic gaming machines for a three week period between March and April 2017 may have breached the Gambling Regulation Act (GRA).
“The Commission’s view is that the trial involved varying a gaming machine type and certain games in a manner that required the Commission’s prior approval.
“Crown Melbourne’s position is that the trial did not require prior approval, and therefore there has been no contravention of the GRA. Crown Melbourne has recently provided a detailed submission of its position to the Commission, which Crown Melbourne understands the Commission is currently considering.”
Crown released a second statement early Tuesday in which it addressed references to the disciplinary proceedings being undertaken by the Commission.
“Crown understands that the reference to ‘disciplinary proceedings’ by the Commission is a reference to its prescribed administrative process and confirms that no court proceedings have been issued against Crown Melbourne in relation to this matter,” it said.
“The Commission has stated that it is currently considering information provided by Crown and will assess this information in determining whether there are grounds for disciplinary action. No disciplinary action has been taken at this stage in relation to this matter.”
Details of the Commission’s investigation comes four months after Australian politician Andrew Wilkie first accused Crown of tampering with slot machines during a parliamentary speech, citing a number of anonymous sources.
Those allegations received a heated response from Crown Resorts at the time, with Chairman John Alexander stating he was “angered and disappointed” by Wilkie’s comments and claiming Crown had been “unfairly smeared” by Wilkie’s assertion “that we have acted improperly in relation to our gaming machines and operations.”
Wilkie, a prominent anti-gambling campaigner, told local media on Monday that the Commission’s findings vindicated his parliamentary allegations and called for the regulator to come down hard on Crown for the practice of blanking buttons.
Wilkie had also accused Crown during last year’s parliamentary speech of allowing drug use, covering up domestic violence, letting staff gamble on premises and failing to report some transactions of over AU$10,000 as required by law.
Crown again defended itself against those accusations on Tuesday, stating that, “The Commission has also stated that it has thoroughly investigated the other claims tabled by the Federal Member for Denison in October 2017 and has determined it has no grounds to take further action.
“The Commission had an opportunity to review and comment on the disclosure concerning the Crown Melbourne Gaming Machine Trial in Crown’s ASX Announcement dated 5 March 2018 and on this announcement.”