Embattled casino giant Crown pays back $61m in underpaid tax, much bigger bill could follow

Rebecca Le MayNCA NewsWire
Crown chair Helen Coonan knew about the tax headache months before directors were informed. Source: Supplied
Camera IconCrown chair Helen Coonan knew about the tax headache months before directors were informed. Source: Supplied Credit: Supplied

Crown Resorts has paid back millions of dollars in underpaid tax after Victoria’s royal commission into the casino giant’s money laundering scandal heard the dodgy deductions may have been concealed over many years.

In a statement to the ASX late on Tuesday, Crown said it had paid back the state $61m, including penalty interest of about $24m, after incorrectly deducting bonus rewards provided to pokies punters from the 2012 financial year to date.

Much more could be outstanding, as a full review is yet to be completed, with the investigation previously hearing the underpayment could be up to $272m.

Non-executive director Nigel Morrison revealed last month he and other directors only became aware of the tax issue days earlier at a scheduled board meeting – but chair Helen Coonan told the probe she first heard about it in February.

Mr Morrison said an historical attempt to conceal the underpayments was evidence of a souring relationship between Crown and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR).

Crown chair Helen Coonan knew about the tax headache months before directors were informed. Source: Supplied
Camera IconCrown chair Helen Coonan knew about the tax headache months before directors were informed. Source: Supplied Credit: Supplied

In the statement, Crown said it continued its review of other aspects of casino tax payments and would update the ASX once the review was complete.

“Crown’s review includes a review of Matchplay, the loyalty promotion pursuant to which Crown Rewards Points are redeemed for credits for use in electronic gaming machines.”

The company said it had been advised the Victorian regulator planned to finalise its own assessment of the underpayments after the royal commission hands down its findings, due mid-October.

Both the Victorian investigation and a separate royal commission in Western Australia have been extended so that serious and complex revelations that have so far emerged can be considered.

CROWN ROYAL COMMISSION
Camera IconThe Victorian investigation is being overseen by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein. David Crosling / NCA NewsWire Credit: News Corp Australia

The Perth probe, which is currently grilling ousted former director John Poynton, will take into account the outcome of the Victorian royal commission, noting there was “uncertainty about the structure and operations of Crown group in the future”.

During closing submissions in Melbourne last week, counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio said it was open to the commission to strip Crown of its Victorian licence.

And on Monday, the Perth proceedings heard action could be taken by the West Australian Gaming and Wagering Commission before the state’s final report was handed down in March.

“It will not necessarily await those conclusions if matters disclosed give rise to a need to take action immediately,” GWC lawyer Paul Evans said.

The proceedings also heard Mr Poynton – who had been a nominee on Crown’s board for biggest shareholder James Packer and reluctantly resigned in March due to “a perceived lack of independence” – had been pushed out by both Ms Coonan and the NSW regulator after being “placed under significant pressure … both privately and in media statements”.

Mr Poynton’s departure came after the board had been largely gutted as Crown sought to redeem itself.

“The Bergin (last year’s NSW) inquiry made absolutely no adverse findings to his conduct as a director,” the businessman’s lawyer, Peter Ward, said.

“That resignation should in no way be taken as an admission that he had cause to resign.”

Both royal commissions were sparked by damning findings from the NSW inquiry, which uncovered evidence Crown had turned a blind eye to various forms of money laundering by high-roller Asian “junket” tours at its Perth and Melbourne venues.

It resulted in Crown being denied a gaming licence for its new $2.2bn Sydney casino.

Originally published as Embattled casino giant Crown pays back $61m in underpaid tax, much bigger bill could follow

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