WA gaming regulators lack casino training

A royal commission is examining the suitability of Crown Perth to continue holding a casino licence.
A royal commission is examining the suitability of Crown Perth to continue holding a casino licence.

Members of Western Australia's gaming watchdog lack experience in increasingly complex casino regulation, a royal commission into Crown Perth has heard.

The commission on Monday called its first witness, Gaming and Wagering Commission (GWC) chair Duncan Ord.

Mr Ord, a senior public servant whose background is in the arts, said he had no formal training in casino regulation before assuming the role.

He has been director-general of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries since the amalgamated "mega-department" was created in 2017.

"I had to take the role on at obviously a short (notice)," he told the inquiry.

"I did what any new member would do when they're appointed which is to take advantage of the expertise of the department's staff."

Mr Ord said he believed only one commission member - former chair Barry Sargeant - had prior skills or experience in casino operations or regulations.

He described the governance of casinos as increasingly complex.

"We were primarily focused on protecting the more gullible punter, I suppose, from a sophisticated casino operator," he said.

"The area which has opened up as a risk, clearly, is what is the source of money that people are using to gamble."

The inquiry is examining whether WA's decades-old gambling legislation remains fit for purpose, and the suitability of Crown Perth to continue holding a casino licence.

A bombshell NSW report into the company's operations earlier this year found Crown was not suitable to hold the licence for a Sydney casino because it had facilitated money laundering through bank accounts held by subsidiaries.

The WA probe is being led by three commissioners: former Supreme Court justices Neville Owen and Lindy Jenkins, and former WA auditor-general Colin Murphy.

They are expected to deliver an interim report by June 30, and a final report with findings and recommendations by November 14.

Mr Owen said the opening hearings were likely to be "relatively low-key".

"Those looking for more disputed exchanges and revelations in these early stages are unlikely to have their expectations met," he said.

Other witnesses slated to appear in coming weeks are WA's chief casino officer Mark Beecroft and his predecessor Michael Connolly.

Mr Connolly stood aside in February amid scrutiny of his friendships with non-executive Crown staff who he took fishing.

Mr Ord said he had not consulted with other GWC members before encouraging Mr Connolly to step aside.

"Mr Connolly was very distressed, understandably so, and said that he would find it very difficult to continue undertaking his duties while under such duress," he said.

"I believed that it was appropriate to accept that."

Mr Ord said he had avoided personally dealing with Crown about non-gaming issues in his capacity as director-general.

He said it would be preferable if the chair of the GWC was independent from government.

Counsel assisting Patricia Cahill SC said WA had brought in regulations in 1999 which meant junket tours had to be approved, with operators required to provide information about their financial standing and any criminal history.

The regulations were repealed a decade later.

"The detailed reasons for that are not immediately apparent," she said.

Crown's executive chair Helen Coonan is among several current or former directors who have been granted leave to appear as witnesses at a later date.

Australian Associated Press