The ongoing New South Wales inquiry into the operations and culture of The Star Entertainment Group has concluded that the company remains unsuitable to manage its Sydney casino independently. Counsel assisting the inquiry, Caspar Conde, highlighted the lack of progress made by The Star since it was initially deemed unfit to hold its casino license in October 2022. While the inquiry stopped short of recommending a complete shutdown, it underscored the necessity of continued external oversight.

Caspar Conde, leading the inquiry on behalf of Adam Bell, SC, noted that despite being six months into their remediation efforts, The Star had not demonstrated sufficient progress, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “There’s evidence of The Star Entertainment Group being six months into their remediation journey, but they’re not 20 months in… The remaining 14 months have been lost,” Conde stated, emphasizing the slow pace of the company’s improvements.

Following three weeks of hearings, Bell is now considering submissions and will issue his second report on the company to the NSW Independent Casino Commission by the end of July. The findings of this report could potentially lead to the permanent closure of the casino.

Throughout the hearings, no witnesses, including current board members, former executives, or the chair, asserted that The Star was ready to operate without external supervision. Since its license suspension in 2022, the casino has been under the management of independent supervisor Nick Weeks. Conde argued that this oversight should continue, citing recent incidents such as the failure to prevent the theft of $3.2 million from a malfunctioning cash machine as evidence of ongoing internal control issues.

“The sort of criminals who can put together a racket of that kind in a short space of time, conduct 1800 transactions and extract $3.16 million, they’re just not the sort of people who should be anywhere near the casino,” Conde remarked, highlighting the severe lapses in security and fraud prevention at The Star.

Tensions Between Executives

Nick Weeks’ tenure as the independent manager has already been extended three times due to persistent doubts about the company’s ability to reform. Tensions between Weeks and former executives, including ex-chair David Foster and former CEO Robbie Cooke, have been evident. The inquiry revealed texts suggesting plans for a class action against Weeks and attempts to remove him from his position.

Conde suggested that the removal of Foster and Cooke might improve the company’s prospects of regaining its license in the future. However, he cautioned against setting a specific timeline for The Star to become suitable, stating that actual conduct and factual developments would be more indicative of readiness than mere opportunities and promises. If this perspective is upheld in Bell’s final report, it could prolong uncertainty for the group’s 3,000 employees and investors.

“The current vacancies in the group leadership team do present opportunities, but the question is whether the opportunity is taken. In the suitability review, we submit that actual conduct and factual developments will tend to be more important than opportunities and words,” Conde stated, emphasizing the importance of concrete actions over promises.

The Star is currently “leaderless and depleted,” having lost nearly a dozen senior executives in the past year. The company urgently needs to fill key positions, including a new permanent CEO, CFO, chief legal officer, chief transformation officer, and chief customer officer. Additionally, it must appoint a new head for its Gold Coast casino following the recent departure of Jessica Mellor, as well as a new patron liaison officer in Sydney.

The ongoing scrutiny and required appointments underscore the significant challenges facing The Star as it seeks to restore its standing. The outcome of Bell’s final determination will be crucial in deciding the future operational structure of the casino and its ongoing viability as a major entertainment entity in Sydney.