Former WA casino chief defends Crown ties

Western Australia’s former chief casino officer has told a royal commission he was never knowingly influenced by his friendships with two Crown employees despite sharing regular fishing trips and selling a boat to one of the men.

Michael Connolly stood aside from his role in February amid scrutiny of the friendships.

The Crown Perth royal commission on Wednesday heard Mr Connolly had significant oversight of regulatory matters involving the casino operator.

In recent years he had simultaneously been the chief casino officer, deputy chair of the Gaming and Wagering Commission (GWC), and deputy director-general of the Department of Local Government, Sports and Cultural Industries.

Mr Connolly confirmed he had gone on weekend fishing trips dating back to 2013 with Crown Perth’s general manager of legal and compliance, Claude Marais.

He revealed he had sold a boat he had renovated to Mr Marais for $13,000, with the transaction bringing him a $116 profit.

Mr Connolly told his then-boss, GWC chair Barry Sargeant, about the transaction „out of an abundance of caution“.

He also had a close friendship with Paul Hulme, another member of Crown’s legal and compliance team.

But Mr Connolly said he did not believe either friendship had influenced his work, despite seeing the pair at monthly meetings where regulatory matters were discussed.

„I have never knowingly been influenced, and I’m still not aware of any influence that has been exerted on me,“ he told the inquiry.

„I am conscious of that friendship and I am conscious of my role when I’m providing the commission with advice.

„I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Crown puts in front of me.“

Mr Connolly said he had declared the fishing trips to Mr Sargeant but agreed he could have given more thought to formally declaring the relationships.

The inquiry this week heard Mr Connolly’s replacement Mark Beecroft was appointed without consideration of other candidates, despite concerns he wasn’t suitably qualified.

It also heard members of the GWC lacked experience in increasingly complex casino regulation.

Mr Connolly said inspections and audits were carried out at the casino but none were specifically aimed at identifying money laundering or other criminal activity.

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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