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SkyCity appoints Walbridge as new CEO

| By Robert Fletcher
SkyCity Entertainment Group has announced the appointment of experienced gambling executive Jason Walbridge as its new chief executive.
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Walbridge is set to begin his new role at SkyCity in July this year. His appointment as CEO is subject to regulatory approvals in New Zealand. 

He joins having worked in the gambling industry for two decades, most recently serving as a strategic advisor at Bridge Gaming. Walbridge also currently serves as executive chairman of the National Entertainment Network in the US. 

Prior to this, he spent one year as chief operating officer for the SG Digital arm of Scientific Games, now Light & Wonder. He was also COO at NYX Gaming Group before it was acquired by Light & Wonder in 2018.

Walbridge is best known for his time at Aristocrat Leisure, where he worked for more than 18 years. During this time, he served in a series of roles, including senior positions such as chief supply officer and managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa. 

In joining SkyCity, Walbridge replaces Michael Ahearne, who exited the business last month. SkyCity first announced Ahearne would be leaving in October of last year

Callum Mallet, COO of SkyCity New Zealand, will serve as interim CEO until Walbridge joins as expected in July.

“Privilege” to lead SkyCity, says Walbridge

“It will be a privilege to lead SkyCity,” Walbridge said. “I am excited to be joining the business at this time as SkyCity looks to pursue the many opportunities ahead of it.”

Also commenting on the appointment, SkyCity chair Julian Cook says he is “delighted” with the addition of Walbridge. 

“We are looking forward to the valuable contribution Jason will make to the business,” Cook said. “Jason has extensive global experience in the land-based and online gaming industries, which will position him well to lead SkyCity through its next phases.”

Senior reshuffle continues at SkyCity

The appointment represents the latest change to the senior team at SkyCity. 

Just last month, the group also confirmed Julie Amey has resigned from her position as chief financial officer. Amey will continue as CFO at SkyCity for a further six months, officially stepping down on 25 September.

The position at SkyCity is Amey’s first in the gambling industry, having joined SkyCity in May 2021. SkyCity did not disclose why Amey is resigning from the role.

Also last month, SkyCity last week named Andrew McPherson as chief information officer on a full-time basis. He had been serving in the role on an interim basis since November. 

New Zealand civil penalty proceedings

Walbridge joins SkyCity after it was also recently confirmed that the operator will face civil penalty proceedings in New Zealand. The country’s department of internal affairs is filing proceedings in the high court against the operator and SkyCity Casino Management (SCML) subsidiary.

This action relates to SCML’s alleged non-compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 in New Zealand. If the claim is accepted, either in whole or partly – SCML could face a penalty of up to NZ$8.0m (£3.8m/€4.5m/US$4.7m).

Draft pleadings set out five causes of action seen as “significant” compliance issues related to the Act. However, according to SkyCity these mainly refer to historical matters, some of which were previously self-reported to the department.

SCML holds the licence for operating SkyCity land-based casinos in Auckland, Hamilton and Queensland. 

Uncertainty in Australia

Across the Tasman Sea in Australia, SkyCity has also faced a series of issues in recent years.

At the end of 2022, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre launched federal proceedings against SkyCity. This reflected to anti-money laundering failings at its SkyCity Adelaide facility.

Last May, SkyCity launched a review into its counter-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering programmes. It also made a provision of AU$45m ahead of an assumed civil penalty from Austrac. 

SkyCity ended 2023 by warning adjusted EBITDA could fall in its 2024 financial year, despite previously saying it expected an increase.

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