Australia's Star City Sydney casino facing second government probe

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: February 26, 2024 05:21 PST

Star Entertainment's Star City Sydney casino in New South Wales, Australia will undergo a second government inquiry into its operations less than two years after an investigation found significant problems in the casino's anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism practices. As was the case in the earlier review, the issues have been deemed serious enough to place the casino's operating license at stake.

Last week's announcement by the NSW Independent Casino Commission of the reappointment of senior counsel Adam Bell to conduct " Bell Inquiry Two" into Star City Sydney states that the earlier problems appear to remain. As a result of the first Bell investigation, Star City Sydney's license was officially suspended but the casino was allowed to continue to operate under an independent manager, Nick Weeks. Star was at that time deemed "unsuitable" to run a casino and was fined AUD $100 million for numerous violations.

Weeks' original three-month stint in attempting to steer the casino onto a new course trudged slowly forward, and government officials approved two time extensions as well, with the second extension set to expire this June. Still, the NICC asserts that not nearly enough has been done. "The Star has not yet satisfied the NICC that it is suitable, or is capable of becoming suitable, to hold a casino licence," the introduction to the new inquiry states.

Last week's announcement had immediate repercussions. Parent company Star Entertainment postponed a quarterly financial report scheduled for one day after NICC's announcement of the new inquiry. Thst quickly sent Star Entertainment's stock price reeling, dropping 26% in a single day before trading on the company's shares was suspended.

Poker implications abound

In the worst-case scenario, Star City Sydney could be ordered to shut its doors. That appears unlikely, but given the serious of the AML issues, it remains within the realm of outcomes. Regulators would likely have to deem the current operation irredeemable to justify the loss of considerable tax revenue and thousands of jobs dependent on the casino.

For Australian poker, a Star City Sydney closure would be a dire consequence. Star City Sydney has taken over as Australia's lsrgest poker venue from Crown Melbourne, which ran into severe regulatory issues of its own a few years back. Crown Melbourne's problems also included lax protocols to protect against problem gambling by patrons, and the government-ordered remedies included time restrictions and cash-processing limitations that made the continuation of the Southern Hemisphere's longest-running poker festival, the Aussie Millions, untenable. Crown Melbourne has since brought back some daily tourneys, but a major series like the Aussie Millions remains uncertain.

In Star City Sydney's case, poker could be another unintended casualty. The casino hosts a 34-table room, now Australia's largest, and it also home to numerous poker series and independent recurring tournaments. In 2022, Star Sydney hosted a WPT Deep Stacks series, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it hosted several WSOP International Circuit stops.

Star City Sydney had also been involved in other poker-related imbroglios. Last year, members of the Australian poker ccommunity launched a protest petition that received hundreds of signers after the casino banned eight well-known players for reasons that remain publicly unknown. The banned players included 2018 WSOP Main Event final-table participant Alex Lynskey, one of Australia's top-ten lifetime poker-tourney moneywinners.

Featured image source: World Poker Tour