Star Entertainment Inquiry in Queensland Now Has a Start Date

Star Entertainment knows that it screwed up. It already faces an unknown future in New South Wales (NSW), and will now face intense scrutiny in Queensland, as the Australian state lays out its plans for an official inquiry.

The Star Gold Coast
The Star Gold Coast
Star Entertainment’s The Star Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. The state is ready to begin its inquiry into the operator’s questionable business practices. (Image: HRS)

However, in Queensland, there’s more at risk. There, Star operates The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane. It also is part of a multibillion-dollar development the government launched for Queen’s Wharf.

Queensland is ready to launch its official investigation into Star, which is coming next month. This includes violations of anti-money-laundering (AML) practices and facilitating the use of China UnionPay cards that allowed Chinese nationals to circumvent China’s monetary controls. It will also closely examine the management of VIPs and other high-profile individuals.

All the Chips on the Table

This inquiry comes a month after Queensland announced harsher gambling laws, with fines up to $50 million (US$35.46 million) for violations of the rules. It could be worse, though – Victoria and Western Australia are implementing fines twice that amount.

In addition to reviewing how Star may have managed AML policies in Queensland, the review will also look at how casinos approach gambling harm minimization and the management of exclusions. In particular, the inquiry wants to know if Star allowed excluded gamblers from NSW to gamble in the state. It will also investigate whether the operator enticed those excluded individuals to visit its properties.

Leading the inquiry will be former judge Robert Gotterson AO. Before he retired in 2019, he was a member of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.

Assisting Gotterson, in the same way Naomi Sharp SC assisted Adam Bell SC in NSW, is Jonathan Horton QC. Among his qualifications, he conducted a review of The Star Casino’s license under the Casino Control Act 1992 of NSW in 2016.

Given the weight of evidence that has emerged regarding the operations of The Star Sydney and the shared governance and operational arrangements of Star Group entities more broadly, it is important the inquiry can seek information from anyone it sees fit,” said Queensland Attorney General Shannon Fentiman.

Shannon Fentiman, the state’s Attorney General, says that the inquiry into Star’s operations will be subject to all the rights, jurisdictions, protections and powers of a formal commission of inquiry. In other words, the state has the right to ask any questions and demand any answers, and Star cannot refuse.

Star Out of Options

Queensland’s inquiry can also use evidence from the NSW inquiry. Anything that the investigation uncovered there is admissible in Queensland. In drafting the framework that legitimizes the inquiry, the government stated that Gotterson and Horton have considerable leeway. They won’t have to “inquire into particular matters that have been sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by the Bell review.”

In addition, Queensland made it clear that Star is already in a hole that it might not be able to get out of. The terms of the inquiry add that the NSW inquiry showed evidence that lead to “significant concerns regarding the operations of The Star Sydney” and the “conduct of Star Group entities more broadly.”

Fentiman’s comments, coupled with the layout of the inquiry, seem to indicate that there is a foregone conclusion. Sharp suggested, as NSW wrapped up its inquiry, that Star was not suitable to hold a casino license. Queensland might already feel the same way.

The results of the NSW inquiry may not be ready until the end of August. It’s unclear how long Queensland needs. But it doesn’t appear that the government expects a drawn-out case.

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