'Reservations' on WA casino chief: inquiry

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Western Australia’s casino chief was appointed without consideration of other candidates despite concerns he wasn’t suitably qualified, a royal commission has heard.

The inquiry into Crown Perth on Tuesday heard evidence about the appointment of Mark Beecroft as chief casino officer earlier this year.

His predecessor Michael Connolly had stood aside amid scrutiny of his friendships with non-executive Crown staff who he took fishing.

Gaming and Wagering Commission board member Barry Sargeant told the inquiry Mr Beecroft had been the only candidate considered for the role, which was not publicly advertised.

He said GWC chair Duncan Ord had decided to appoint Mr Beecroft and had put forward a resolution for the board to support his appointment.

Mr Sargeant, a former GWC chair and departmental director-general, said he had reservations about the appointment but did not express them at the time.

“I’m not sure that Mr Beecroft’s qualifications were appropriate … (they are) not in direct casino and gaming matters,” he told the inquiry.

“The reason why I didn’t oppose it was because I couldn’t think of any alternatives.”

In evidence to the inquiry on Monday, Mr Ord said he considered Mr Beecroft to have sufficient knowledge, skills and experience in casino regulation to adequately perform his role which he is holding on a temporary basis.

He said he did not consult other GWC members before encouraging Mr Connolly to step aside.

Mr Sargeant said he became aware of Mr Connolly’s friendship with a Crown employee in 2015 but did not raise it as a concern.

“If you look at it in the context of what I now know, I may have erred in that regard,” he said.

“But at the time I didn’t see it as a conflict of interest. And I think most members of the commission would have seen Mr Connolly never showed any sort of bias or favour towards anyone.”

The inquiry has heard Mr Connolly is not currently performing his duties as deputy director-general of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

He is instead overseeing the implementation of a banned drinkers register in regional WA.

Mr Ord, a senior public servant with an arts background, told the inquiry he had no formal training in casino regulation before becoming GWC chair.

Mr Sargeant is believed to be the only board member with prior casino experience.

The inquiry is examining whether WA’s decades-old gambling legislation remains fit for purpose, and the suitability of Crown Perth to continue holding a casino licence.

A bombshell NSW report into the company’s operations earlier this year found Crown was not suitable to hold the licence for a Sydney casino because it had facilitated money laundering through bank accounts held by subsidiaries.

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