New boss at embattled The Star Casino to be paid $1.6m

Adelaide LangNCA NewsWire
The Queensland government will launch an independent review into Star Entertainment’s casino licences after allegations emerged of money laundering and integrity issues. NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Camera IconThe Queensland government will launch an independent review into Star Entertainment’s casino licences after allegations emerged of money laundering and integrity issues. NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled Credit: News Corp Australia

A new boss will take the helm of the embattled Star Casino after an inquiry into its operations heard the Sydney casino should not hold a licence.

Former chief executive officer Matt Bekier departed the company in March as the sensational Bell Review heard evidence of criminal activities and money laundering at the casino.

Interim chairman of The Star Entertainment Group, Ben Heap, has announced Robbie Cooke will take over as head of the troubled company.

A veteran of re-energising flagging businesses, Mr Heap said Mr Cooke’s “ideal combination of experience, capabilities and attributes” signified he was “the standout candidate” to lead the casino through its current mire of controversy.

Robbie Cooke
Camera IconRobbie Cooke has been named as the new CEO of Star Entertainment. Ric Frearson Credit: News Corp Australia

On Wednesday, Mr Cooke announced his resignation from Australian fintech company Tyro, where he more than doubled transaction values from around $13bn to more than $34bn during the global pandemic.

During his more than four years as CEO at Tyro, Mr Cooke led the payment company through the stringent post-Financial Services Industry Royal Commission environment with a focus on risk management.

Between 2006 and 2013, Mr Heap noted Mr Cooke was instrumental in establishing online accommodation booking site Wotif as an industry-leading platform “during a period of significant industry disruption”.

Mr Heap also emphasised the utility of Mr Cooke’s experience as the chief executive officer at one of Australia’s oldest gambling corporations.

“As CEO of the lotteries, wagering and gaming operation at Tatts Group, he led a comprehensive transformation program and secured valuable licence agreements with various State governments,” he said in a statement.

The Star Casino Sydney
Camera IconThe Star Casino in Sydney is the subject of a NSW inquiry into alleged criminal activities. NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

While working at Tatts Group, Mr Cooke guided the company through organisational renewal after a successful merger with Tabcorp.

Mr Heap said Mr Cooke was “well placed to lead The Star and restore confidence in the organisation”.

“Given The Star’s significant investments to develop world-class tourism and entertainment destinations in southeast Queensland and Sydney, the company will benefit significantly from both his understanding of the industry’s regulatory environment and extensive insights and experience across the hotel and broader hospitality sector,” he said.

For his part, Mr Cooke said he was “delighted” to return to the gaming and hospitality industry.

“There are challenges for The Star that have been well documented; they will be my priority and focus,” he said.

An inquiry heard the Star Casino in Sydney has been host to illegal activities. Brendon Thorne / Bloomberg
Camera IconAn inquiry heard the Star Casino in Sydney has been host to illegal activities. Brendon Thorne / Bloomberg Credit: Supplied

“Ensuring continuity of the business through a comprehensive renewal program is of paramount importance.”

The new CEO noted The Star is “an incredibly resilient business” with a staff of thousands working behind the scenes to ensure the company’s success.

In a statement, the Star announced Mr Cooke would receive a base salary of $1.6m, with the possibility of a short-term bonus of nearly $1m for achieving performance measures. Two thirds of the bonus would be delivered in cash, the casino said.

In the long-term, the new CEO could have the opportunity to double his salary by $1.6m – in performance share rights – if the move is approved by shareholders at this year’s Annual General Meeting.

Mr Cooke’s appointment is subject to regulatory approval in NSW and Queensland. His commencement date is yet to be confirmed, although Tyro indicated in a statement he has handed in his six months’ notice.

STAR CASINO BRISBANE
Camera IconThe Queensland government will launch an independent review into Star Entertainment’s casino licences after allegations emerged of money laundering and integrity issues. NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled Credit: News Corp Australia

The new CEO faces a tough battle, with Queensland announcing it will also conduct an independent review of the Star’s casinos.

It’s possible his background as legal counsel for Queensland-basing gaming company UNiTAB will allow Mr Cooke to better navigate the quagmire the Star is facing.

The announcement comes a week after rival Crown Casino was granted a conditional licence to finally open its Sydney casino in Barangaroo.

The licence was granted after the company, formerly directed by James Packer, parted ways with its senior executives and board members after a string of controversies.

Originally published as New boss at embattled The Star Casino to be paid $1.6m

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