After almost two years of being drip-fed details about the alleged crimes and misdemeanours of Australia’s largest casino operator, the Australian public will soon have the full story on Crown.
Former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin will hand to NSW state parliament today her highly anticipated report into whether the casino giant should keep its Barangaroo licence.
It will end an 18-month inquiry into one of the country’s most powerful entities — one that forever tainted the legacy of its reclusive billionaire owner, James Packer, once the doyen of corporate Australia — and traversed all manner of bombshell testimony, from money laundering to organised crime gangs and secret bank accounts set up to avoid regulators.
Whether the public will get to read the report straightaway is unclear — the findings are being released under parliamentary privilege so the state government can defend itself against any defamation action launched by the casino giant’s executives.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
But there are a few things we can expect.
Suitability to hold a licence
The biggest threat facing Crown is that it loses its licence to operate the new $2.2 billion casino in Barangaroo. It has been forced to push back opening its gaming floor until after the report. Restaurants and bars are already open.
It could also face new conditions under which to operate, including caps on shareholding which would force Packer to sell his shares in Crown — something he suggested during the inquiry.
The company could also be fined, as some ratings agencies have already forecast.
Reputations at risk
At stake is much more than a casino licence. The executives that once stood atop one of the most powerful business empires face having their reputations blown apart.
The fact that the government is releasing the report under parliamentary privilege suggests it will make adverse findings against senior figures inside the Crown business. These findings are likely to deal with the question of whether Crown’s biggest shareholder, Packer, should remain approved as a “close associate” of the Barangaroo casino.
Another question is whether minority shareholders were misled about the status of Packer’s involvement in deals.
The inquiry heard Packer’s closest associate, Michael Johnson, fed confidential financial information about Crown to Melco while it was negotiating a sale to Melco, and that Packer sent a threatening email to a Melbourne businessman after a deal to sell Crown fell over. Packer blamed the email on his recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority will meet this month to consider the Bergin report’s recommendations.
While the report is likely to etch into stone some of the extraordinary findings from the inquiry, it may also be just another milestone in the remarkable downfall of Packer’s casino dynasty.