Comment: A test of character for Barangaroo's casino

An aerial view of the Barangaroo development in Sydney. (AAP)

With the public brawl between James Packer and David Gyngell splashed across the headlines, careful scrutiny must be placed on the deliberations of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.

Initially the Bondi fist fight between James Packer and David Gyngell was nothing much more than an opportunity for a juicy splash or two over newspaper front pages and a couple of nights of TV vox pops.

Some of us suggested that the offensive behaviour should be material for the regulator currently assessing Mr Packer's fitness for a casino licence.

Others felt that the issuing of permission to proceed with the Barangaroo casino was a foregone conclusion. They suggested that regulators were "conservative, and really only interested in financial stability and ability to run a reputable casino" (Sydney Morning Herald, Casino not in doubt whatever happens, 7 May 2014).

However, the issuing of a Criminal Infringement Notice to Mr Packer and Mr Gyngell for the events of Sunday 5 May is now cause to question again how the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority will view the event.

Section 13A of the Casino Control Act 1992 requires the regulator to determine if Mr Packer and each his close associates are people "of good repute, having regard to character, honesty and integrity".

A criminal infringement for offensive behaviour would be seen by many as a relevant mark against good repute and character.

The reality of any casino is that they do attract criminals and they are known to be the location of violent behaviour.

The question that is consequently before the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is the extent to which Mr Packer's brawl and the criminal infringement notice are relevant to the section 13A test.

It has been argued that the regulator's 2012 report into the sacking of Star Casino's Sid Vaikunta means there is little interest in matters of personal behaviour. The focus was more on "adequate systems" to "ensure the integrity of gaming, that the casino is free from criminal influence and to control the potential to do harm to the community."

That may have been the position before Mr Packer allowed himself to become involved in a public fight. It may even have been the case before he was issued with a criminal infringement notice by the police.

But now the matter has been recognised by the police and there are good reasons to believe that the regulator will not continue to turn a blind eye.

First, to discharge its responsibility, the regulator will need to assess if an act of offensive behaviour is incompatible with being of good repute.

Secondly, the licensee will hold ultimate responsibility for the way in which the casino responds to the types of crises that will inevitably confront the management of the proposed Barangaroo establishment. Some of these are likely to involve violence, threats and intimidating behaviour.

The regulator should explore if Mr Packer's capacity to be drawn into an act of offensive behaviour involving a fisticuffs fight throws doubt over his ability to handle delicate and challenging situations.

It should also recognise that a high profile licensee like Mr Packer would inevitably set the standard for behaviour at the casino.

The regulator would also be likely to now consider whether allowing a difference of opinion to descend into a physical fight is an example that would be helpful in the stressful environment of a casino. 

Everyone makes mistakes and perhaps what happed in Bondi will be seen as an aberration that the regulator will find is not relevant to the licence.

On the other hand, parliament's intention with Section 13A is clear. Real concerns about the impacts of a second casino caused legislators to agree to the proposition that there had to be a strong test of character before a licence can be granted.

Either way there will be intense scrutiny on the Authority's deliberations over the next few months.

John Kaye is a NSW Greens MP and the spokesperson on Energy, Education, Treasury, Finance, Health Services, Water Utilities, Consumer Affairs, Gambling and Donations.