Star head says ‘war’ messages sent in heat of moment

Keira Jenkins |

The Star’s executive chair David Foster has given evidence to the inquiry.
The Star’s executive chair David Foster has given evidence to the inquiry.

Comments between the bosses of Sydney’s The Star casino about “prepping for war” with its regulators were made in the heat of the moment due to heightened emotions, an inquiry has been told.

The messages between Star’s executive chair David Foster and then-chief executive Robbie Cooke were sent ahead of a meeting between the casino’s appointed manager, Nicholas Weeks, regulator Liquor & Gaming NSW and two law firms in early February.

They were aired at a second inquiry into Star’s suitability for its lucrative Sydney casino licence following concerns about whether long-term reforms were being introduced at the company.

The regulator had appointed Mr Weeks to ensure the casino’s operations continued when Star’s licence was suspended in 2022 after a previous inquiry, also led by Adam Bell SC.

Mr Weeks delivered two reports, in October and November, to the NSW Independent Casino Commission and to Star management in November outlining deficiencies in the operation that still needed to be addressed.

Despite general acceptance of his first report at a subsequent meeting, Mr Cooke and Mr Foster sent a response letter with an “extensive amount of commentary and rejection” of its content.

The February meeting, which was set to discuss Star’s response to the letter, was apparently monitored by the casino bosses the day prior, the second inquiry previously heard.

Mr Foster said on Tuesday he had been “trigger happy” when sending a message to Mr Cooke saying: “OK, they are prepping for war. We better do the same.”

“It was a statement made in the heat of the moment,” he told the inquiry, adding that emotions were heightened at the time.

“As I’ve reflected on it, I was a bit trigger happy with a number of my texts.”

Nicholas Weeks
Nicholas Weeks delivered two reports on Star’s operations after he was appointed by the regulator. (HANDOUT/NSW INDEPENDENT CASINO COMMISSION)

Mr Weeks earlier said it was extraordinary the Star leadership had been monitoring his diary entries while the casino operator was also trying to regain trust with the regulator.

In messages discussing their response to reports delivered by Mr Weeks, Mr Foster told Mr Cooke: “If done right, it could be a catalyst to get rid of (Mr) Weeks.”

Mr Foster said that message had also been sent in the heat of the moment.

He and Mr Cooke had also queried grounds for launching a shareholder class action against Mr Weeks and the casino regulator, despite their public position they were working co-operatively to address deficiencies.

Mr Foster agreed when asked if the idea was “bizarre”, but he could not recall the specific shareholders who had proposed the class action.

His engagement with the casino commission and Mr Weeks had always been “professional and constructive”, he said.

The inquiry continues on Tuesday.