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‘It’s not science’: Crown needs to lift its game with problem playing, former SkyCity boss says

Crown Resorts needs to lift its game with problem gamblers, a non-executive director has told the Perth royal commission, conceding it has “slipped” in its responsible service obligations.

Nigel Morrison, a highly experienced casino executive who was the boss of SkyCity Entertainment Group for eight years, said New Zealand and South Australian authorities were in particular very focused on ensuring the company’s casinos in those jurisdictions had “best practice harm minimisation measures”.

It took years of negotiating together, but SkyCity achieved “very good, best of breed practices”, he said.

“And recognising, I would say, that it’s not science – it does require a range of initiatives and not all can be evidence-based – we entered into commitments to trial some things with the New Zealand regulator and agreed to other things with the South Australian regulator,” Mr Morrison said.

“In contrast … some years ago, Crown was, I would say, best practice in responsible service of gaming.

“But I think probably over time, it has slipped from that mantle and there are some improvements that can be made.”

Crown non-executive director Nigel Morrison says casino operator must deserve the privilege of their gambling licences. WA.gov.au via NCA NewsWire
Camera IconCrown non-executive director Nigel Morrison says casino operator must deserve the privilege of their gambling licences. WA.gov.au via NCA NewsWire Credit: Supplied

He said the company was focusing on bettering its RSG and keen to progress.

Asked if Crown needed to lift its game to SkyCity’s level, Mr Morrison replied: “There are certain elements where that should be the case”.

“All states want casinos to operate at a high standard of responsible service of gaming … what I would like to see is Crown get to a position of best of breed … across all of its gaming properties.”

Gaming licences were privileges and casino operators had to deserve them, Mr Morrison added.

His frank comments come after damning findings from the Victorian royal commission were released publicly on Tuesday.

Commissioner Ray Finkelstein said the manner in which Crown Melbourne dealt with the many vulnerable customers who had a gambling problem was “perhaps the most damning discovery” by the probe.

“The cost to the community of problem gambling is enormous,” the former Federal Court judge said.

“Crown Melbourne had for years held itself out as having a world’s best approach to problem gambling.

“Nothing can be further from the truth.

ROYAL COMMISSION
Camera IconThe WA royal commission was sparked by last year’s NSW inquiry, which heard Crown facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos. Tony McDonough Credit: News Corp Australia

“The commission heard many distressing stories from people whose lives were ruined by gambling but whose situation might have been improved if casino staff had carried out their obligations under Crown Melbourne’s gambling code.”

The Victorian royal commission heard the story of one woman who sold her house, lost most of the proceeds gambling, gambled for 52 hours straight in an unsuccessful bid to win her final $5000 back and was only once asked “Are you still here?”, with no follow up.

She climbed the Westgate Bridge with the intention of ending her life but was fortunately startled to her sense by a passing ship underneath.

Another woman spent years gambling at Crown Melbourne and ultimately went to jail aged 64 for stealing money from her employer to pay for her habit.

She gave up her inheritance and all her savings to repay the debt, now lives a modest life with “nothing to show for all (her) years of hard work”, and is heartbroken and anguished, the royal commission heard.

Commissioner Finkelstein also cited a “horrific” story provided by a gambling counsellor of a woman whose husband beat her after he lost money gambling – “blaming her that she brings bad luck” – and forcing her to do sex work to bring in cash.

The findings of the WA probe are due in March.

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