Star Entertainment Chairman Takes Over, Confirms Board Changes Coming

Posted on: April 1, 2022, 05:42h. 

Last updated on: April 1, 2022, 01:31h.

Star Entertainment will undergo a shakeup similar to that witnessed at Crown Resorts. The casino operator already lost its CEO, but will also see a number of changes in its board of directors.

John O'Neill and Matt Dekier
Star Entertainment board chairman John O’Neill and Matt Dekier, the company’s outgoing CEO. O’Neill is temporarily taking over CEO duties and receiving a hefty bonus. (Image: Herald Sun)

Star announced today that John O’Neill is the company’s new executive chairman. O’Neil was already the chairman of the company’s board but will now serve as interim CEO and managing director.

He already earns $500,000 (US$374,200), but will now receive an additional $1.5 million (US$1.12 million) annually. That’s a considerable amount of money that could have been used for other purposes.

This follows the resignation of Matt Bekier earlier this week amid allegations the company willfully violated anti-money-laundering (AML) protocols and other regulations. Bekier’s exit also means O’Neill is getting a significant pay raise. The former Australian Rugby Union and Football Federation Australia boss will help guide the casino operator into a new era, including a different board than it has now.

Star Has Money to Burn

Star is already looking for someone to replace Bekier, who stepped down after the allegations.

That means O’Neill will benefit financially from Star’s inability to follow the rules. He will likely be among those removed from the company and other board members and executives. However, his remuneration is likely fixed through a contract, so he will probably receive the money regardless of how the story unfolds.

Vas Kolesnikoff, the executive director of advisory firm ISS, says that removing O’Neill makes sense. He had to have known what was going on, telling the WAToday media outlet, “If you don’t put in procedures for [money laundering and crime issues] in 10 years as chairman of the board, then you’ve got [to] be accountable for it.” O’Neill has been chairman since 2012.

“We saw how it all panned out at Crown, and pretty much everybody left – board and management. There are a lot of similarities here,” states ISS Executive Director Vas Kolesnikoff.

Star has already acknowledged that board changes are coming due to the ongoing scandal. How much different it will look in the future isn’t known. However, Crown lost almost everyone in the top ranks. That could happen at Star as well.

More AML Failings Surface

In the ongoing investigation into Star’s past and future in New South Wales (NSW), more wrongdoings continue to surface. The company learned in 2018 that Suncity Group was using its exclusive access to a private gaming room at Star Sydney for questionable purposes.

The junket operator used Salon 95 to conduct large cash transactions. That should have raised flags high enough for Star to report the activity to regulators. But instead, it chose to turn the other way while continuing to welcome Suncity into the casino.

In 2020, Star Due Diligence Manager Angus Buchanan prepared a report on the questionable activity. It came via a request by the company’s GM of financial crime, Kevin Houlihan.

However, according to the Brisbane Times, the final report that made it into the books was a “watered down” version of the original, meant to put Suncity in a better light. Prior reports supported the idea that Suncity was conducting illegal operations. Although these reports made it to the upper echelon of the company, nothing was done.

The hearings in NSW continue. They will likely wrap up soon, and Star must be concerned about its operational integrity. It could lose its license and its board. It has also contributed to the notion that Australia’s casino industry is a “cesspit of dishonesty,” as one politician put it, that should no longer exist.