Crown Resorts CEO Ken Barton and director Andrew Demetriou reportedly resign

By Ben Butler

The chief executive of Crown Resorts, Ken Barton, and a non-executive director of the casino group, Andrew Demetriou, have reportedly resigned following pressure from gambling regulators in New South Wales and Victoria.

A third director, Harold Mitchell, is believed to be planning to resign after the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) asked him to explain why he was suitable to remain on the board.

The Australian newspaper reported on Thursday night that Barton had offered his resignation and Demetriou had quit.

“I have always been a team player and supported the greater good,” Demetriou said in a statement according to the Australian. “I will therefore step down from the Crown Resorts board to give Crown the best possible chance of becoming suitable to the NSW regulator.”

The latest departures follow the resignation of two directors linked to major shareholder James Packer and came after Crown’s chair, Helen Coonan, said that further “board renewal” would be part of the company’s plan to make itself suitable to hold a casino licence in Sydney.

On Tuesday, an inquiry headed by former judge Patricia Bergin found that Crown was not suitable to hold the potentially lucrative licence to run a casino at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour.

Crown facilitated money laundering in its existing casinos in Melbourne and Perth and junket operators that brought high-rolling gamblers in from overseas had links to organised crime, Bergin said in her report tabled in NSW parliament.

She slammed Barton and Demetriou, saying the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority would be justified in lacking confidence in them in the future.

However, she set out a pathway of reform of the company that could make it suitable to hold the casino licence.

The Victorian regulator said its chief executive, Catherine Myers, met with Coonan and the Crown Melbourne chief executive, Xavier Walsh, on Wednesday afternoon for a briefing on the company’s plans to respond to Bergin’s report.

Myers told Coonan and Walsh that the commission was considering the report and would “determine any appropriate action to take”, the regulator said in a statement.

She also told the Crown representatives she would write to Barton and Demetriou and “demand they explain why they remain suitable to be an associate of Crown Melbourne”.

“Under the Victorian Casino Control Act, associates of the casino operator must be of good repute, having regard to character, honesty and integrity,” VCGLR said. “Demanding an explanation is the mandatory first step of our regulatory action.”

Myers said there was already “an ongoing VCGLR investigation regarding Crown Resorts director, Harold Mitchell, who has also been asked to explain how he is a suitable person to be an associate of Crown Melbourne”.

In July last year, the federal court found Mitchell breached his duties while a director of Tennis Australia during TV rights negotiations, but threw out most of the allegations the corporate regulator made against him. He was not disqualified as a company director but in November was fined $90,000.

Mitchell, who made his fortune in advertising, declined to comment.

However, it is believed he plans to leave the board soon – a task made more complicated because he is chair of the board nomination committee that is responsible for finding new directors.

Myers’ move came after the chair of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, Philip Crawford, called for Barton and Demetriou to resign.

“There need to be changes at the top in senior management and a lot of board changes – that’s started already and we look forward to seeing a bit more of that,” Crawford told ABC radio.

In her report, Bergin said Barton engaged in “improper” and “appalling” conduct when he gave a misleading answer about Packer’s access to Crown financial information at the company’s annual meeting in October 2019.

She said he lacked candour about the episode when giving evidence to her inquiry, which “demonstrated a serious lack of judgment and insight into the expectation of the highest standards of propriety, candour and co-operation of a director of a company that holds a casino licence”.

His handling of money laundering allegations levelled against Crown was also “inexplicable” and demonstrated a “breathtaking lack of care”, she said in the report.

She criticised Demetriou, a former CEO of the Australian Football League, for a “quite bizarre performance” where he read from notes while giving evidence to the inquiry and then denied doing so.

Barton and Demetriou did not respond to requests for comment from Guardian Australia. Coonan said she welcomed Bergin’s report.

“While we have already taken a number of important steps to improve our governance, compliance and culture, I recognise from the commissioner’s report we have much more to do,” she said. “We do not underestimate the scale of the problem and appreciate there is a need for root and branch change. This change has commenced.”

She thanked Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston, who served as nominees of Packer’s company, Consolidated Press Holdings, on the Crown board until resigning on Wednesday.

“Their decision will help accelerate our plans for board renewal and demonstrates we are moving quickly in our response to the commissioner’s report,” she said.

A third director with links to CPH also moved to distance himself from the company on Wednesday.

John Poynton, who was appointed to the board in 2018 to replace Packer, severed a consultancy deal with CPH. CPH said it hoped he would continue to sit on the Crown board as an independent director.