The chairman of Crown Resorts, James Packer, has been questioned by anti-pokies activists at the company’s annual general meeting in Melbourne, conceding that more transparency around gambling revenue and harms may be required.
Alliance for Gambling Reform representatives Tim Costello and Stephen Mayne pressed Packer and the board on Thursday morning about issues including political donations and secrecy surrounding poker machine losses and revenue. Board members were also confronted by former poker machine addict Anna Bardsley, the first time someone with experience of problem gambling has questioned Crown executives during an AGM.
While Packer did not commit to more transparency, he said the board would take a “serious look and talk about it”. But he also added the board may not ultimately give anti-gambling advocates “everything that you require”.
“Companies need to be more transparent than they were 10 years ago,” Packer said. “From my perspective it is a conversation that the board should have because we are living in a world of more and more transparency.”
Packer also appeared to suggest Crown Resorts would move away from large political donations, though he did not say the donations would stop.
Crown Resorts executive chairman John Alexander also addressed shareholders, angrily refuting allegations made under parliamentary privilege last week by independent Tasmania MP Andrew Wilkie. Wilkie alleged Crown tampered with machines to change the odds, allowed other people’s identity cards to be used to process cash transactions and turned a blind eye to drug use and family violence.
“I am angered and disappointed by the outrageous and unfounded allegations levelled at us by Mr Wilkie, which unfairly smeared Crown by asserting that we have acted improperly in relation to our gaming machines and operations,” Alexander said.
“We also do not improperly manipulate our gaming machines. Any employee found breaching our codes and practices would face severe disciplinary consequences. Mr Wilkie’s inferences and commentary are deeply offensive to Crown, our board of directors and our employees.”
Guardian Australia attempted to attend the AGM, which was open to journalists, but was refused entry by security. The media officer appointed by Crown to the AGM also refused to respond to calls and emails.
Mayne said it was another example of the lack of transparency from Crown Resorts, which unlike other major companies does not webcast its AGM nor provide transcripts or meeting minutes to shareholders and journalists. Journalists have previously criticised the treatment of media at Crown Resorts AGMs, including being made to stand in a roped-off area.Advertisement
“The idea that mainstream journalists were not able to gain access shows the bunker mentality at Crown,” Mayne said.
“Crown are on the back-foot politically and they need to be seen as being more transparent or there will be a backlash from the public. The very first test of whether they are truly considering increasing transparency will be seeing if they release a full transcript of today’s meeting.”
Packer refused to take questions from journalists prior to or after the meeting.
During the meeting Packer was re-elected to the Crown Resorts board by investors almost unanimously. He was also pressed about the company’s retreat from Asia. Crown staff including executives were arrested and jailed in China last year for “gambling crimes”. It is not uncommon for casinos to send their staff to China, where gambling is mostly illegal, in order to lure them to casinos overseas including in Australia. In May, Crown announced it would sell its assets in Macau.
“Sixteen staff were put in jail last year and Crown takes the welfare of its employees very seriously, very, very seriously and that forced the Crown directors’ hands in relation to Macau,” Packer told shareholders.
Shareholders were told that VIP program play turnover at Australian Crown resorts had fallen 17% in the past year, which Alexander described as “encouraging given that most of the prior corresponding period preceded the detention of Crown’s staff in China.”
Source: The Guardian