Australia’s Crown Resorts is in hot water over allegations that it deliberately limited the gambling options on some of its slot machines at its flagship Crown Melbourne Casino by “blanking” buttons, rendering them unusable by patrons.

Andrew Wilkie welcomes disciplinary proceedings against Crown Resorts

Crusading anti-gambling MP Andrew Wilkie brought up allegations against Crown Resorts by former employees in parliament last year. A subsequent investigation dismissed most of these, but the claim that Crown Melbourne had unusable gambling option buttons on its machines appears to have stuck. (Image: The Examiner)

State regulator the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) confirmed on Monday that it had commenced disciplinary proceedings against the operator for tampering with some its slots. The most severe punishment it could expect to face is the cancellation, suspension, or variation of its casino license, although a hefty fine is more likely.

The announcement followed a VCGLR investigation into allegations by three anonymous whistleblowers, which Independent MP Andrew Wilkie brought up in federal parliament.

The whistleblowers — all ex-Crown employees, according to Wilkie — claimed Crown Melbourne had “shaved down” betting buttons on slots so customers could jam them in and gamble non-stop. Furthermore, the casino had regularly flouted its anti-money laundering responsibilities and turned a blind eye to drug use at the property, they said.

Crown Disputes Allegations

VCGLR said it had investigated — and ultimately rejected — all of those claims, but did find evidence of button-blocking. The whistleblowers claimed they’d been instructed to remove three out of the five betting-line options on some slots, or “pokies,” as they’re known in Australia.

In a filing to the Australian Stock Exchange on Monday, Crown said it was aware of the VCGLR investigation, but disputed the regulator’s findings.

The Oz gaming operator said that between March and April 2017, it conducted a three-week trial on 17 of the casino’s 2,628 slot machines. It said the trial didn’t need regulator-approval, because it didn’t breach any gambling laws.

“The commission’s view is that the trial involved varying a gaming machine type and certain games in a manner that required the commission’s prior approval,” wrote Crown Resorts. “Crown Melbourne has recently provided a detailed submission of its position to the commission, which Crown Melbourne understands the commission’s currently considering.”

Packer Shedding Some Skin in the Game

Wilkie, a crusading anti-gambling politician, said the regulators findings “made a mockery” of Crown Resorts’ claims.

“The casino obviously has a case to answer about the blanking of buttons, and I’m sure that the truth will come out when the commission finalizes its inquiries,” Wilkie said. “Both parties are telling different stories, and clearly only one can be right.”

Also on Monday, majority shareholder James Packer announced he will be selling more than $100 million worth of Crown Resorts stock, bringing his interests in the company down to around 47 percent.