Crown Resorts’ gambling license for its flagship Crown Melbourne is up for review, but the testimonies of a whistleblower with claims that could affect the casino’s suitability for licensing renewal have been ignored by regulators.
According to Independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie, regulators refused to hear testimonies that Crown tampered with slot machines, possibly illegally, because the whistleblowers wished to remain anonymous.
In a letter to the gambling regulator for the State of Victoria (VCGLR), obtained by The Age, Wilkie said this was “unfathomable” and that it cast doubt on the integrity of the licensing review. The MP is a tireless anti-gambling campaigner and has been a thorn in Crown’s side for many years.
Wilkie announced in April that he’d been approached by a former VIP customer at the casino who claimed staff had provided her with “small plastic picks” to stick into the gaps between betting buttons on slot machines to keep them depressed, allowing for automatic and continuous play.
She also claimed the casino issued her with multiple loyalty cards so she could earn loyalty points by playing several slots at once, in further violation of regulations.
The whistleblower later obtained video evidence that the practise was still in use when returned to the casino with one of Wilkie’s employees.
“Police and regulators often take information from anonymous sources for investigation — in fact, Crime Stoppers campaigning makes a virtue of this,” Mr Wilkie wrote to commission chair Ross Kennedy last month, referencing the crime hotline program run by Australian Federal Police.
Wilkie claimed the whistleblower — and others he had spoken to — preferred to remain anonymous because “they feared for their safety,” although he did not say why this should be the case nor provide any evidence they had been threatened.
Crown Melbourne Button-Blocking Penalty
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, slots with continuous play options are permitted only in designated areas of the casino under Victorian law, but tampering with machines whose mechanics must be regulatory compliant could be against the law.
In April, VCGLR fined Crown Resorts a record A$300,000 ($220,000) after finding evidence the casino had engaged in button blocking, where blanking plates are used to hide certain buttons in order to restrict betting options.
But the VCGLR also accepted the tampering had been part of a temporary experiment on a small number of machines “by a small group of Crown staff” who did not believe they needed regulatory approval.