Commissioner Raymond Finkelstein (AAP Image/James Ross)

After Crown’s evisceration at the Bergin inquiry, you could be forgiven for thinking the gambling giant had no more dirty secrets left. But Victoria’s royal commission into the company is turning out to be a blockbuster, with each day bringing fresh evidence of a company rotten to its core.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Finkelstein inquiry had promised to be the tamer of the two, focusing on problem gambling — a far more innocuous-sounding problem compared with money laundering and Chinese crime gangs.

But so far it is shaping up as posing a far bigger existential threat to the casino, and observers say it could be the death blow for a company teetering on the edge.

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At the heart of the inquiry is Crown’s business model: the exploitation of problem gamblers for profit. With this it turns the very notion of responsible gambling on its head: how can you be responsible for gamblers when you make money from them losing?

The evidence so far suggests you can’t.

On Wednesday it was revealed Crown allowed a high-roller to continue gambling in its infamous Mahogany Room even after he racked up $100,000 in debt. The man had tried to “self exclude” from the casino but kept being invited back.

Culture has also been a key focus, with revelations staff were afraid to speak out for fear of being punished. A Deloitte review that would have probed the full extent of its risk management processes was restricted by senior management to include only “desktop” issues — despite requirements under Crown’s licence to have a strict framework in place.

But possibly the most damaging evidence so far lifts a lid on how the Victorian government has wilfully turned a blind eye to the problems, devising schemes to limit problem gambling that were “wildly unrealistic”, including one that allowed gamblers to set their loss limit at $1 million a day.

The so-called pre-commitment cards touted by the state government and Crown Melbourne as a measure against problem gambling were also often used to unlock poker machines that spin faster and take larger bets.

The evidence could get very bad for the Victorian government, which has long tried to justify the casino in the face of fierce criticism.

That alone should be enough to wake up anyone suffering from Crown fatigue.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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