Star makes final appeal to retain casino license

By Samantha Lock
Updated May 15 2024 - 6:00pm, first published 5:58pm
A NSW Independent Casino Commission inquiry is examining Star's Sydney casino operations. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)
A NSW Independent Casino Commission inquiry is examining Star's Sydney casino operations. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Star Entertainment's counsel concedes the company's leadership behaved "regrettably and deplorably" but past mistakes should not rule out the suitability of the troubled casino operator to retain its Sydney licence.

A NSW Independent Casino Commission inquiry is examining Star's Sydney casino operations two years after a probe found damning anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism failings at the venue.

The probe, recently opened to the public, has heard of ongoing systems failures at the casino, which is currently under independent management, and internal messages about "war" with the regulator.

In closing submissions, Star's barrister Bret Walker SC said there would be "no varnishing of the undesirable state of affairs" but the regulator had responded appropriately and past mistakes were "unlikely of repetition".

The inquiry previously heard former Star executive chair David Foster and ex-CEO Robbie Cooke exchanged messages about "prepping for war" with its regulators.

Mr Walker described the internal messages as "deplorable but not material" in determining the suitability of the casino operator to retain its licence.

He urged inquiry head Adam Bell SC to "not regard those as death knells to any sensible prospect of holding a licence".

"To the contrary, though painful, they are convulsions in the corporate history which promise real improvement," he told the inquiry on Wednesday.

Earlier evidence at the three-week inquiry heard Star was continuing to fail regulatory oversight at the casino including a $3.2 million fraud committed against the company by customers and the falsification of welfare checks on problem gamblers.

But Mr Walker said Mr Bell could not be expected to have a "crystal ball and a calendar" to determine the future of the licence given the uncertainty of running any business.

"The suitability assessment that your report will address is one which understands that there is, at any given time, a range of possibilities from the optimistic to the pessimistic," he said.

"Suitability is not what might be called an absolute state of affairs, it's relative and involves assessments of risks which cannot be eliminated from the conduct of any business."

Mr Walker said the final decision would rest with the commission but it would be a "grave error" for Star to provide "clear and convincing evidence" of its operations and finances before an assessment could be made about the company's suitability and capacity to retain a Sydney licence.

"That eliminates what might be regarded as the ordinary vicissitudes and the inherent risks of trading in a business where you don't control your customers or costs," he said.

"These are, by definition, the risks of business.

"There is nothing to suggest that the conduct of a business, which requires attracting people to put their money on the table, literally and figuratively, was intended to be risk-free."

Australian Associated Press