August 3, 2018 / 6:55 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-Australia's Crown Resorts says Melbourne unit to retain licence

(Updates with details on fine in April, case in China, founder’s departure)

Aug 3 (Reuters) - Australian casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd on Friday renewed its licence to run its flagship resort in Melbourne city, clearing a key hurdle after a tumultuous period involving mass arrests in China and its billionaire founder quitting.

The world’s seventh-largest casino operater has been focusing on its home country after the shock arrest of 19 staff in China for violating anti-gambling laws. That raised the stakes for the company to have its five-yearly licence being renewed.

Adding to the pressure, the Sydney-listed company faced accusations last year of slot machine tampering, which it denied, and this year its founder and 46-percent owner James Packer quit its board, citing mental health issues.

The company is also defending itself in a class-action lawsuit brought by shareholders who argue it failed to meet its continuous disclosure obligations in relation to the 2016 China arrests.

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation said Crown remained a “suitable person” to hold a casino licence and that allowing it to keep trading was in the public interest.

The regulator added that it had not taken into account the China arrests because the company was still providing information about them.

It made 20 recommendations including calling for Crown to introduce facial recognition technology to weed out problem gamblers.

Crown said it accepted the recommendations.

In April, the same regulator fined Crown Melbourne A$300,000 ($221,070) after finding it had “blanked” buttons, interfering with win rates, on some poker machines during a three-and-a-half-week period in 2017.

It accepted at the time that the contravention was not deliberate.

$1 = 1.3570 Australian dollars Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Byron Kaye and Stephen Coates

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