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Western Australia government extends Crown inquiry until March 2022

| By Robert Fletcher
The Western Australian government has extended its Royal Commission into Crown Resorts until March 2022 following a request from commissioners for more time to carry out their investigations.

The inquiry was initially due to run until November 14 this year, but the Royal Commission requested additional time to ensure its activities “properly serve the public interest” and produce a report and recommendations in line with expectations.

The new deadline for the Royal Commission – which will examine Crown suitability as a licensee to operate its Perth venue in the state – is now set for 4 March 2022.

The extension comes after the deadline of the Victorian Royal Commission was also moved from August 1 this year to October 15, allowing the Perth Casino Royal Commission to ensure findings and recommendations from that State can be fully considered.

Western Australia’s government said it has received the Perth Casino Royal Commission interim report and will table it when the Western Australian parliament next sits in August.

“This will provide commissioners with additional time to carry out their investigations and consider the findings of the Victorian Royal Commission,” Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said.

“The state government believes that public interest will be best served if the Perth Casino Royal Commission has sufficient time to produce its final report.”

The Victoria inquiry is focused around Crown’s suitability as a licensee within that state. Last week, the Victorian Royal Commission heard that Crown is still “not a suitable licensee”

Adrian Finanzio, the counsel assisting the Commission into Crown pointed to AML failings and tax evasion efforts and argued that Crown may never be seen as suitable in the public eye.

Finanzio said that the Bergin Inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a licence in New South Wales revealed major flaws, and that – based on the evidence submitted to the Commission in Victoria – the operator remains an unsuitable licensee.

In May, Crown was ordered to pay a total of $22.5m as part of measures set out by the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.

Crown must pay $12.5m towards the inquiry, and also pay an annual Casino Supervisory Levy of $5.0m in both FY2021 and FY2022, after the regulator found Crown “unsuitable” to operate a casino in the Barangaroo district of Sydney in February. 

Concerns over regulatory probes led to Star Entertainment Group last week withdrawing its proposal to merge with Crown. However, Star said it still believes that “substantial benefits” could be unlocked by a merger with Crown, but the current uncertainty meant it was unable to continue at the present time with the merger.

Private equity giant Blackstone Group in March put forward an offer of $8.02bn to acquire the remaining shares in Crown, having already acquired 9.99% of the business in April 2020 with the purchase of a stake from Melco.

Blackstone then increased its offer to $12.35 in cash for each Crown share, up 4% increase on the previous offer of $11.85 per share submitted, but Crown rejected this proposal, saying the offer undervalued its business.

In addition, alternative investment management business Oaktree Capital Management last month put forward a funding proposal worth $3.1bn. Crown’s board has not yet formed a view on the proposal.

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