POLITICS

Andrew Wilkie Tables Explosive Crown Casino Claims In Parliament

The MP says whistleblowers allege illegal machine tampering and more.

18/10/2017 11:18 AM AEDT | Updated 18/10/2017 2:38 PM AEDT
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
Andrew Wilkie: "I'm horrified to recount that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has allegedly done nothing to stop this shocking criminal misconduct."

CANBERRA -- Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has tabled in Federal Parliament damning testimony from anonymous whistleblowers alleging serious criminal misconduct against Crown Casino.

In what he told reporters was "chilling" evidence and the Victorian gambling regulator has promised will be "thoroughly investigated", Wilkie on Wednesday said in Parliament that whistleblowers claimed the company deliberately tampered with poker machines so they would lose or spin on illegal continuous play, while turning a blind eye to illicit drug use and domestic violence.

It is also alleged Crown breached financial transaction disclosure laws.

The allegations have been rejected by Crown Resorts and, in a letter to the Australia Stock Exchange, it has called on Wilkie to "immediately provide to the relevant authorities all information relating to the matters alleged".

Wilkie is seeking a parliamentary inquiry after using parliamentary privilege in tabling video evidence from three former Crown staff members and, although the allegations focus on Crown in Melbourne, the MP suggested that the evidence suggests a "broader pattern of misbehaviour in the poker machine industry".

The Greens in New South Wales are now calling for an inquiry into the operation of poker machines at Sydney's Star Casino and other venues in NSW.

"The whistleblowers allege illegal machine tampering including the disabling of lower bet options and the modifying of buttons to allow prohibited autoplay, both of which increase gambler losses," Wilkie told Parliament.

"Moreover, there's software manipulation to increase gambler losses even further on weekends when the number of naive, first-time and casual users is obviously greater."

Continuous play is outlawed in Victoria, but the whistlebowers allege they were asked to "shave down" buttons on machines to allow it to illegally happen.

In the video evidence, the voices and appearances are heavily disguised. The Crown employees explained they were instructed to unplug wires inside poker machines so authorised buttons did not work.

After using parliamentary privilege, Wilkie did not repeat the allegations at a later media conference, only saying they were very serious and untested.

"I'm not going to offer even a personal view about whether they are accurate or not, or if they are accurate, how far it goes, but if the allegations are true, it does suggest that there is a systemic problem rather than a rogue individual," he told reporters in Canberra.

He said he had met the three whistleblowers, after they came to him as a group, and confirmed their identities. He insists they are credible and should be taken very seriously.

"These are very nervous men who know they are making very serious allegations about criminal misconduct, and it has been an almighty thing for them to achieve, to have brought those allegations to me," he said.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, Crown Resorts fired back at Wilkie.

"("Crown") rejects the allegations made today under parliamentary privilege by Mr Andrew Wilkie MP, as reported in the media, concerning the improper manipulation of poker machines and other illegal or improper conduct at Crown Casino in Melbourne. Crown calls on Mr Wilkie to immediately provide to the relevant authorities all information relating to the matters alleged."

Crown Resorts statement

The Tasmanian MP also claimed, in parliament, that the regulator turned a blind eye to the allegations.

"I'm horrified to recount that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has allegedly done nothing to stop this shocking criminal misconduct," he told parliament.

"In some cases the commission is clearly complicit in covering it up."

Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg
Crown Casino Melbourne

The Victorian for Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has also released a statement in response to the use parliamentary privilege.

Victorian for Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation

"We take any claims of this type extremely seriously and they will be thoroughly investigated."

"The VCGLR maintains constant oversight of the Melbourne Casino and has taken active steps over the past 12 months to improve our level of supervision of the Casino. This includes establishing a specialist dedicated Casino team.

"We undertake regular inspections and audits of the Casino each year.

"We continue to work closely with other law enforcement agencies, including AUSTRAC and Victoria Police, to ensure the purposes of the Casino Control Act 1991 are met.

"Along with this, under section 25 of the Casino Control Act 1991, the VCGLR is required to conduct a review of the casino operator, Crown Melbourne Limited, and its licence every five years. The Sixth Casino review is currently underway."

Wilkie wants a parliamentary inquiry and is expecting other action.

"The challenge is now for the law enforcement and the regulatory agencies to conduct their own inquiries," he said.

He also wants action from the Federal Government.

"The ball is in their court," he said. "Very serious allegations of criminal behaviour have obviously been made that cut across federal and Victorian State law."

"It is up to the Australian Government, up to the Victorian Government, up to the Prime Minister and the Premier to pull people in and say, "Go and have a look at these allegations and see if there is any substance to them, and if there is any substance to them, what are we going to do about it?"

Labor leader Bill Shorten backs an inquiry.

"They sound very, very serious allegations," he told reporters in Canberra. "There are gambling regulators in Victoria and no doubt they need to investigate it."

"They are serious allegations and they do deserve to be investigated."

The NSW Greens are now calling for NSW casinos, including Sydney's Star City, to be investigated to ensure there is not similar alleged tampering of poker machines.

"The serious allegations made today of illegal operations in the pokies industry in Victoria raises questions about all poker machine operations in NSW and whether similar tampering is occurring here, including in our big gambling clubs and hotels," Greens Gambling Harm Spokesperson Justin Field said in a statement.

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