More than two years in, the white-hot spotlight of multiple money laundering investigations and explosive headlines seems to be taking its toll on Crown’s executives, with the gaming giant’s Perth chief appearing frustrated at the West Australian royal commission.
Lonnie Bossi, who started working with Crown at its Melbourne venue 27 years ago, gave evidence at the WA probe for a second time on Friday.
Again under intense questioning by counsel assisting Patricia Cahill about the detailed structure of the company, including its regulatory compliance committees, Mr Bossi appeared mildly agitated, sighing deeply at times, cutting off some of her questions and responding with “I was getting to that” when prompted to answer more directly.
He appeared to contradict himself when asked about the charter of the executive risk and compliance committee, initially saying it “could be improved”, pausing lengthily after being asked to explain how, then saying he was “comfortable” with it.
Mr Bossi told the commission some staff were “really struggling” from the spotlight on Crown, which kicked off in 2019 following media reports that sparked last year’s NSW inquiry and left the company without a gaming licence for its new Sydney venue.
People were asking them about the scandal at BBQs, so they couldn’t escape it outside of work hours, he said.
But considering that, morale was holding up OK, Mr Bossi said.
It emerged Mr Bossi will soon depart the Burswood Ltd board, but said that was not to do with his performance, instead to reduce the number of directors to the minimum of three.
Asked if he should be on the Burswood Ltd board, given he is the most senior executive at Crown Perth, Mr Bossi said “any potential decision-making conflicts that a board member may have with the CEO may be removed, so I’m comfortable stepping off”.
In August, Mr Bossi told the investigation he didn’t make any inquiries about why one of two bank accounts at the centre of the scandal, in the name of Riverbank Investments, was closed by Commonwealth Bank in 2019.
That was over similar concerns held by ANZ, which closed down the account in 2014, suspecting money laundering.
Mr Bossi was Crown Perth’s chief operating officer at the time of both account closures, but said he did not recall being a signatory to the CBA account.
“I wasn’t involved in the banking work that was going on. I should have – in hindsight, a wonderful thing – inquired further than I did,” he testified in August.
Chief financial officer Alan McGregor gave evidence for a second time on Thursday, with the commission hearing he’d had little time to prepare, having been handed a large bundle of documents the night before to peruse, followed by the company’s marathon annual general meeting the next morning.
At the AGM, the company got a massive protest vote against hefty golden handshakes paid to departing executives, but dodged a board spill.
Financial analysts at Macquarie Securities said in a research note on Crown entitled “The Wait is Almost Over” on Friday – referring to the public release of the Victorian royal commission findings in coming days – that it would likely set the precedent for the Perth and Sydney licences.
The WA royal commission will hand down its findings on March 5.
“While we place the loss of a casino licence as a low risk, we foresee higher costs considering increased risk, governance and compliance costs and there is a high chance of monetary penalties,” Macquarie said.
It estimated the cost of a potential fine from financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC, which is conducting its own investigation into Crown, at $250m.
Macquarie also said it expected high-roller Chinese junket tours at the centre of the scandal would resume and start to recover in fiscal 2023, assuming international border openings.
But there would be lower volumes, Macquarie said, given expected regulatory changes.
Junkets have been banned in WA, and Victoria is considering doing the same.