Crown chairman John Alexander steps down ahead of casino inquiry

Friday 24th January 2020

Related Story: Crown Casino sued over share price collapse following arrests in China

Crown Resorts executive chairman John Alexander will step down and be replaced as chairman by former Liberal senator Helen Coonan, in a surprise reshuffle.

The refresh of the board comes after much shareholder pressure and just days after the NSW Government inquiry into the casino giant began.

Current chief financial officer Ken Barton will take over chief executive, while John Horvath has been appointed as deputy chair of Crown.

Mr Alexander will remain an executive director of Crown.

Ms Coonan said Crown's board had been working for some time to consider and to implement a governance structure.

"This new structure is in line with feedback we have received from a number of proxy advisers and shareholders and better aligns with contemporary governance practices," Ms Coonan said in a statement to the ASX.

Anti-gambling shareholder activist Stephen Mayne, who has attacked the board at its annual general meetings for failing to require Mr Alexander to put himself up for re-election and for lacking an independent chairman, welcomed the news.

"It's a good move to improve the governance," Mr Mayne said.

"Having an independent chair is certainly a good first step, given the scandals engulfing Crown."

Several Crown executives, including Mr Alexander and major shareholder James Packer, will be called to give evidence to the NSW inquiry.

The inquiry expected to focus on the proposed $1.76 billion sale of nearly 20 per cent of Crown to Melco Resorts, the Hong-Kong based group run by Macau casino billionaire, Lawrence Ho.

It will examine accusations the casino giant failed to alert regulators about the sale of shares to Melco before the deal was announced publicly, raising fears it may have breached the terms of its New South Wales casino license.

The company is also fighting a class action launched by shareholders in late 2017 who suffered losses when Crown shares in late 2016 dropped almost 14 per cent.

The share price tumble came after the October 2016 arrest of several Crown employees in China for alleged "gambling crimes".

Mr Alexander said Professor Horvath would "provide much-needed support to this busy role as we head into various regulatory inquiries".

"In addition, Ken Barton's longstanding role with the company and his experience as Crown's chief financial officer will provide continuity through this transition."

The board changes had been "inclusive" and would refresh Crown's leadership, he said.

"I look forward to assisting the new leadership team through the transition and serving as an executive director."

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