Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE), the casino operator, has filed a legal challenge of an Australian gambling regulator’s power to determine whether MRE is an appropriate investor in Aussie rival Crown Resorts.
The Australian reported on Wednesday, that MRE had filed a legal challenge with the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA), claiming that the regulator is going beyond its authority by its inquiry into MRE’s plan to buy a 20% stake in Crown. On Thursday, MRE’s legal hail mary will be heard in a hearing with the NSW Supreme Court.
Just to remind you, MRE boss Lawrence Ho made a pact with James Packer, Crown’s biggest shareholder last May to purchase 20% of the Australian casino operator. However, that contract was ‘paused’ that August after just half of the Crown shares had changed hands to “allow more time for the relevant Australian regulatory processes to be completed.”
As reported by calvinayre.com, those regulatory processes, which comprised the ILGA probe, were incited after Crown’s dealings with Asian VIP gamblers were criticized in an episode of 60 Minutes Australia. It was later revealed that Lawrence Ho sat on the boards of a few companies with which Crown was prohibited to associate due to their link to Lawrence’s father Stanley, who has been connected to Hong Kong triad activity.
MRE’s filing claims that the company is under no obligation to hand over certain documents which MRE believe would violate attorney-client privilege. MRE also disputes that the scope of this investigation allows the ILGA to exercise sections of Australian law which might allow the regulator to violate this privilege.
Last month when the investigation started, attorneys hinted at some behind the scene friction regarding MRE’s inclination to produce requested documents. Barrister Adam Bell said any witness asked to testify at or present documents for the investigation “is not excused … on the ground of legal professional or other privilege or self-incrimination or a duty of secrecy or other restriction or disclosure or any other ground.”
Lawrence Ho and James Packer were ex partners in the Melco Crown Entertainment joint venture, which ran casinos in Macau and Manila. In 2016, Crown started selling off its MCE share and sold the last of its holdings the subsequent year to focus on its local operations, including the new Crown Sydney project. We have to wait and see if Aussie regulators will be an obstacle in this dynamic duo collaboration for a second time.