Star boss reassures on probes, H1 loss

Steven Deare |

The boss of casino operator Star Entertainment insists its focus on preventing criminal activity has never wavered as investors brace for bigger problems than its first-half loss.

Chief executive Matt Bekier tried to reassure investors they have nothing to fear from dual probes into whether the company has been lax in preventing money laundering at its casinos.

Mr Bekier on Thursday revealed Star was fielding plenty of questions from AUSTRAC and the NSW gaming regulator as the inquiries progress.

“We are in constant communication with both. These are live reviews and inquiries,” he said.

“There is lots of data that we provide. We get lots of questions and respond as quickly and comprehensively as we can.”   

Mr Bekier said he was not pre-empting findings of the inquiries.

The Australian Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the NSW gaming regulator are probing Star for any failures in preventing criminal activity at casinos.

Mr Bekier was keen to reassure shareholders.

“We are in regular contact with our investors. They know how we operate and understand the culture of our company,” he said.

“They understand how seriously we take compliance with the rules and regulations. That focus has never wavered.”

In January, AUSTRAC widened its investigation from the Sydney casino to the wider Star group. This includes The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane.

The watchdog started its probe last year and is also examining Crown Resorts, National Australian Bank and Sky City.

The NSW gaming regulator is also probing operations at the Sydney casino. Its review is expected by June 30.

Queensland government officials have also said they are looking into whether a similar inquiry is needed.

Similar inquiries into Crown Resorts found criminals were taking advantage of its casinos. This prompted most of the board to resign and two royal commissions.

In earnings news, Star blamed the $74 million loss on the shutdowns, trading restrictions and border closures of the pandemic.

The casinos have since reopened and Star properties have had a mixed start to the second-half of the financial year. Sydney revenue was up 20 per cent and Queensland revenue dropped six per cent for January 1 to February 13, compared to the same period last year. 

Mr Bekier did not expect international visitors, allowed to return to Australia from Tuesday, to quickly boost sales.

Asian visitors usually provide considerable revenue but many of their governments require residents returning from overseas to undergo quarantine. This could deter many from travelling.

Mr Bekier cited people in Hong Kong as one example.

“I don’t expect a quick return of these customers. They don’t want to do three weeks’ quarantine on the way home.”

Overseas visitors are more likely to help earnings next financial year.

The company also sold a fleet of planes for $40 million. These were used to carry VIP customers from overseas on junket tours but the industry has since shunned junkets.

Meanwhile, Star is working on its Queens Wharf Brisbane property, which is slated to open from next year.

The Dorsett Gold Coast Hotel, which includes about 700 hotel rooms and units, opened in December.

Shareholders will not receive an interim dividend.

Company shares on the ASX were down almost three per cent to $3.59 at 1343 AEDT.