The State Government yesterday announced that it “supports in principle” recommendations made by former Supreme Court Justice Robert Gotterson AO to enhance the integrity, minimise harm and restore public confidence in Queensland casinos.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman said Mr Gotterson’s independent inquiry had made 12 recommendations in its review of casino operators The Star Entertainment Group.
Ms Fentiman said Mr Gotterson’s review found Star Entertainment was not currently suitable to hold a casino license in Queensland and that the state’s casino regulator would move to issue the company with a show-cause notice.
It comes after Mr Gotterson’s review made recommendations which included reforms of Queensland’s current casino laws and allowed for the appointment of a special manager to increase the integrity of operators.
Ms Fentiman, in a statement, said: “Making sure Queensland casinos operate lawfully is a priority for the Government.
“I would like to thank Mr Gotterson and Counsel Assisting Dr Jonathon Horton KC and Ms Angela Hellewell for their work in conducting this important review.”
She said the Gotterson review of Star Entertainment’s Queensland operations was triggered by concerns raised in June 2022 over serious issues with the operation and governance arrangements of the Star Group.
Star Entertainment operates two casinos in Queensland – The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane. The Brisbane licence is scheduled to transfer to the under-construction Queen’s Wharf casino development in the CBD.
Mr Gotterson’s inquiries were informed by public hearings, the findings of the independent review of The Star Pty Ltd conducted by Mr Bell SC in New South Wales, and the Queensland regulator’s investigations and compliance work.
Ms Fentiman said the review examined a broad range of issues, and highlighted major failings and concerns, including:
- A concerted effort on the part of The Star to characterise China UnionPay transactions as related to hotels when the primary use was gambling.
- Although The Star has now ceased all junket operations and indicated it will not revert to group junket operations, there will be a temptation for this to be reversed in the pursuit of future commercial objectives.
- The legislation should be clarified to oblige the casino operator to make sufficient suitability enquiries of players prior to entering into agreements for premium junket arrangements.
- The Star actively encouraged individuals who had been excluded at the direction of Police Commissioners in NSW and Victoria to gamble at its Queensland casinos.
- Serious deficiencies with The Star’s anti-money laundering program which, despite expert advice, persisted over a number of years.
- The Star’s Responsible Gambling program needs further and more rapid improvement, including appropriate resourcing.
- The Star was not forthcoming or transparent in its dealing with its banker or the Queensland regulator, and its actions were indicative of a one-eyed focus on profit and money.
As a result of the Queensland review and the findings of Mr Bell SC’s Inquiry into Star Entertainment in NSW, Mr Gotterson found that the actions of The Star left open a finding of unsuitability to hold a casino licence in Queensland.
“Considering the serious and concerning findings of the Gotterson Review and his advice regarding suitability, I have formed the view that The Star is unsuitable to hold a licence in Queensland,” Ms Fentiman said.
“In accordance with the legislation, once a formal determination of unsuitability is made, The Star will be given the opportunity to respond to that finding through a show-cause process.
“Following the show-cause process, a range of remedial actions will be available to Government, including fines, suspending or cancelling licenses, and as recommended by Mr Gotterson, appointing a special manager, as has been done in Victoria.”
She said the government “supports in principle” all Gotterson review recommendations.
The 12 recommendations are:
- as a priority, amending provisions in the Casino Control Act to allow for the appointment of a Special Manager to increase supervision and integrity of operations
- with powers akin to those in the NSW Casino Control Act, institute periodic investigations into the suitability of all Queensland casinos, paid for by the casino
- casino licensees to pay a supervision levy as a condition of their licence
- a mandatory Code of Conduct for Safer Gambling with significant fines for non-compliance
- casinos be required to make reasonable endeavours to exclude persons subject to the exclusion directions of Police Commissioners in other states
- A number of recommendations to improve gambling harm minimisation, including mandatory carded play and limits on cash transactions.
The Government has also determined to raise the maximum penalty that can be imposed on a casino to a proposed $100 million.
Mr Gotterson found no suggestion of any inappropriate interference by the Minister of the day or government in regulatory decisions relating to The Star. Similarly, Mr Gotterson did not find sufficient justification to change fundamentally the structure of the Queensland regulator.
However, in regard to the Queens Wharf Financial Commitment Agreement regulatory restrictions and compensation clauses, he noted that the state legislature should not be fettered in its capacity to impose controls on casinos or compensate them in any way for having done so.
Read the report.