Pressure mounts on another Crown exec

Another Crown Resorts director is being pressured to fall on his sword, with the gambling regulator urging him to step down as another key staffer quits.

Pressure is mounting on Crown Resorts director Harold Mitchell to resign as investigations continue into money laundering at the embattled gaming giant’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.

Four directors, including chief executive Ken Barton, have quit after scathing findings from the lengthy NSW regulator’s inquiry into the shocking allegations deemed the company unsuitable to retain the gaming licence for its new Sydney casino.

But Mr Mitchell is yet to succumb to public pressure, and the gambling watchdog wants him gone.

Speaking to 2GB’s Ben Fordham, NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chair Phillip Crawford said: “We think he needs to move on”.

‘There’s an ongoing dialogue there … watch this space.”

The company confirmed Mr Barton’s departure in a statement on Monday, saying he would step down both as CEO and managing director immediately.

Chair Helen Coonan has been elevated to executive chair while Crown Resorts looks for someone to replace Mr Barton, who will provide assistance to her “to ensure a smooth handover”.

“Ken joined Crown more than a decade ago and has played an invaluable role with the business,” Ms Coonan said.

Mr Barton was excoriated in findings handed down last week from the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry into Crown’s suitability to retain the gambling licence for its massive $2.2bn development at Barangaroo, where apartments are selling and non-gaming operations opened late December.

Mr Crawford said it would still be weeks or even months before a decision was made on whether Crown had its NSW gaming licence returned.

“It will be down the track … it won’t be years but Helen (Coonan) is working pretty quickly,” he said.

The liquor licence expires in April.

Following the release of the bombshell report that noted biggest shareholder James Packer’s influence on the company had had “disastrous” consequences, there were a wave of departures from the business.

The reclusive billionaire’s Consolidated Press Holdings nominees Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston stepped down from the board and were followed by high-profile director and former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou.

Mr Barton clung on over the weekend, then capitulated to pressure to exit.

The inquiry found Mr Barton failed to act when red flags were raised about bank accounts at the centre of money laundering allegations – inaction that Commissioner Patricia Bergin described as “totally inexplicable”.

Crown posted a big half-year loss on Thursday and also announced Mary Manos had stepped down as general counsel and company secretary, with immediate effect.

“The board has determined that, with the regulatory challenges facing Crown, the role of general counsel and company secretary will be split into two separate roles,” Ms Coonan said.

“This represents a further significant governance improvement for Crown and demonstrates Crown’s commitment to a well-resourced, governance, legal and compliance function.”

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has dramatically brought forward its five-yearly review of Crown Melbourne’s suitability to hold a casino licence, with the minister expected to receive the findings later this year.

It has a range of other investigations into Crown Melbourne under way, including a probe into Mr Mitchell, who was found in 2019 to have breached his director’s duties while on the board of Tennis Australia.

The breaches were in connection with a 2013 decision to award the domestic television broadcast rights for the Australian Open tennis tournament to the Seven Network, earning him a $90,000 penalty in November.

An inquiry with the powers of a royal commission was this week kicked off in Western Australia, with Premier Mark McGowan warning “stern action” could be taken against Crown but also saying keeping the Burswood venue’s 5500 staff employed was a major consideration.

The probe is expected to take about four months.

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