By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Crown Resorts said it was still considering the position of Chief Executive Ken Barton at the casino operator after an inquiry into money laundering allegations found he was not fit for the job, putting its gambling licence in jeopardy.
The statement came in tandem with the resignation of a third director, Andrew Demetriou, the chairman of Crown Melbourne, where the alleged money laundering took place.
Investors said, however, that Barton’s resignation was only a matter of time and the fact that it hadn’t happened yet was likely due to the need to settle on his replacement and make changes to company structures.
Failure to resolve the issue could dash Crown’s hopes that it might soon open the casino in the A$2.2 billion ($1.70 billion) Sydney waterfront tower it has spent almost a decade building.
“I still think he goes – he kind of has to – but I’d imagine various measures need to be enacted first,” said John Ayoub, a portfolio manager at Wilson Asset Management, which holds Crown shares.
The company is probably looking at whether it can find a replacement quickly or expand the role of chair Helen Coonan, who was praised by the report, to include executive responsibilities, Ayoub added.
A year-long inquiry commissioned by the New South Wales state gambling watchdog found this week that criminal conduct took place at Crown’s Melbourne casino. It said in its final report that Barton was “no match for what is needed at the helm of a casino licensee” and that the regulator could not have confidence in dealing with him.
On Thursday, a separate regulator overseeing Crown’s Melbourne casino said it had called on Barton to explain why he should be formally cleared as a suitable associate of that facility.
Since the report was published on Tuesday, two other directors of Crown’s 11-member board, both representatives of 36% shareholder James Packer, have also quit.
Crown shares were down 1.8% by midsession. They have lost a sixth of their value since early 2020 when the company’s venues were subjected to lockdowns and border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)