Crown's James Packer and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP/Tracey Nearmy)

The Victorian government’s ongoing embarrassment about lax regulation of Crown Melbourne was highlighted again last night when no less than five former gaming inspectors turned whistleblowers on ABC’s Four Corners. And when you even have a former Victorian gaming minister, Tony Robinson, slamming the regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), as a joke, something clearly has to give.

Perhaps the most startling revelation last night came from former VCGLR CEO Peter Cohen, who admitted it was his idea in 2004 that the Victorian Parliament legislate to hand over regulation of junket operators to Crown itself because it was too big a task for the regulator. Talk about regulatory capture!

Crown is continuing to come under sustained pressure from the Finkelstein royal commission, which will wrap up public hearings this week with Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan scheduled to appear. But after the five former Victorian gaming inspectors spoke out on Four Corners last night, surely the case for another extension and a broadening of the terms of reference is warranted, so the regulator itself can be examined.

After royal commissioner Ray Finkelstein requested more time and budget, acting premier James Merlino responded positively on June 10, doubling the budget to $20 million and extending the reporting deadline from August until October. The rationale was explained as follows:

Due to the seriousness of evidence produced through hearings and submissions to date, Commissioner Finkelstein is now investigating a wider range of matters. This relates to the corporate culture of Crown Melbourne, gambling harm minimisation, and claims brought forward in evidence so far — including allegations Crown Melbourne underpaid casino tax.

There was no mention, of course, of the lapdog gaming regulator or any of the political players responsible for Crown going rogue over many years.

The first extension announcement came when Premier Daniel Andrews was on extended leave. As federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie pointed out on 4 Corners last night, the problem ultimately rests with the premier, who has long been regarded as being too close to Crown and too close to its controlling shareholder James Packer.

Does the relatively new Victorian Gaming Minister Melissa Horne have the clout to force through a better-late-than-never change to the royal commission’s terms of reference to investigate the key politicians and regulators who allowed Crown Melbourne to become a law unto itself?

So far, the focus has all been on Crown and only one former or current VCGLR executive, Jason Cremona, has  appeared.

His evidence was compelling, particularly the details about Crown’s aggressive pushback, including threats to “call the minister”, against a VCGLR requirement to improve anti-money-laundering practices. This should have belled the cat about the need to get more VCGLR personnel appearing at the inquiry.

For instance, how can VCGLR CEO Catherine Myers declare on ABC radio that she doesn’t have any coercive powers at her disposal when casino inspectors with long experience are now prepared to directly contradict that claim on national television?

It now appears increasingly likely that Finkelstein will declare Crown unsuitable to continue to hold its Victorian licence.

At that point, expect to see the mooted merger with Star Entertainment expedited with James Packer also selling down to less than 10% of the combined company. Crown made another profit downgrade yesterday, foreshadowing a statutory loss for 2020-21. The only thing preventing its share price from tanking is all the ongoing takeover activity involving private equity firms and Star.

The Four Corners reporter Steve Cannane was clearly given access to a lot of material by the five former inspectors last night. The ABC didn’t let it widely be known that its investigation was under way for fear of having last night’s story injuncted by Crown or the regulator.

Now that it’s all out in the open, perhaps Cannane’s investigative team and the inspectors should at the very least be called in for a private session with the royal commission’s legal team to swap notes and ascertain whether further submissions and appearances are warranted.

Sometimes the problem with even long-form journalism is that many hours of work and interviews has to be pared back to just 45 minutes of television when the material gathered is worthy of a book.

It would be a shame if the Four Corners investigation wasn’t able to augment Victoria’s Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence — and for that to occur, we need some political leadership. For instance, as a former gaming minister himself, Dan Andrews would be a witness whose insights would add a lot of value to the royal commission.

With the Crown stench getting worse with each passing day, the standing of Andrews would improve if he stepped up today and made the following declaration:

“I watched Four Corners last night. I was appalled to see those five gaming inspectors detail how their work was ignored and downplayed over many years. I am prepared to give the royal commission more time and budget to investigate these failures in regulation and I am also prepared to appear as a witness myself.”

Over to you, Dan.