Crown Melbourne is recognized worldwide as the casino that hosts the biggest poker festival in the Southern hemisphere, “the Aussie Millions”. Like all casinos its bread and butter comes from funds generated through slot machines / poker machines, commonly referred to in Australia as “pokies”.
For nearly a year, the casino has been under a lot of heat for its management of these machines. The scandal started when three former workers turned whistleblowers brought serious accusations in front of the Federal Parliament with the support of the (Member or Parliament) MP Andrew Wilkie. Wilkie has since launched a campaign called “PokieLeaks” to further expose malpractices in Australia’s casino industry.
Several days ago, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) returned with their verdict. Crown Melbourne was fined A$300,000, the largest-ever issued by the commission. While many feel this penalty is too low, the trial has been damning as it has publicly revealed how far the casino will push for more profit.
Allegations against the Crown
Laying out the allegations against the Crown, whistleblowers claim:
1. Casino deliberately tampered with pokies machines, limiting punting options from five lines down to two lines. In one testimonial,
“they [Crown] asked us to remove three out of the five play options… they got rid of the 5, 10, 20 [line options], so your options were one — which is betting two cents on the middle line — or 40, which is all the combinations. So you basically remove betting options from the machine.”
2. Machine buttons were slightly altered or “shaved down” to create a small space for punters to insert a tool that would allow for continuous play. Continuous spin is not allowed if there is no punter physically pressing the button. According to the whistleblowers, Crown provided punters with Crown picks, similar to guitar picks, to wedge into the space.
3. On average, machines should yield approximately 15% while 85% should go back to players. Crown regularly reset machines’ memory to reduce returns to players.
4. Staff were instructed to use different player ID cards when processing transactions over $10,000 to avoid reporting to AUSTRAC, the national anti-money laundering agency.
5. Punters soiled themselves while betting, and Crown provided them with clean clothes so they could continue gambling.
The testimonials also accused the VCGLR of taking no action despite previously discovering machine manipulations and disabled punting options on some pokies. They claim the inspectors simply told the casino to have them fixed.
Crown eventually fined but public not satisfied
Initially, the Crown denied the allegations then later changed their stance stating the alteration was only done on 17 machines and only during a trial period. This did not need authorization and that if there was a breach, it was not intentional. The Crown also defended that it did not affect the return-to-player ratio.
After a thorough investigation by the VCGLR, the commission said, “Crown’s failure to obtain approval means it has contravened the Gambling Regulation Act 2003”.
Crown was then fined A$300,000. Immediately after, Crown released a statement,
“While Crown Melbourne’s position throughout this process was that the Gaming Machine Trial did not require the prior approval of the Commission, Crown Melbourne respects the Commission’s decision, which brings this process to a close.”
But by no means does Wilkie nor the public see this as a closed case. Not only do they find the penalty too low but the other accusations have not been addressed by both the VCGLR and Crown Melbourne. Wilkie said,
“I expect the commission and the police to diligently probe these matters. It would be completely unacceptable to the community if they take the casino’s explanations at face value or continue to hand out slap-on-the-wrist fines.”
Article by Tricia David