Robert “Robbie” Cooke was named managing director and chief executive officer of Australian casino operator The Star Entertainment Group in June 2022, and immediately set about rehabilitating the embattled firm’s reputation.
The former managing director for banking solutions specialist Tyro Payments Limited took over from predecessor Matt Bekier just before a pair of independent inquiries found The Star Entertainment Group unfit to hold casino licenses for the states of Queensland and New South Wales. These decisions came after the Brisbane-headquartered company was judged to have breached anti-money laundering rules as well as a raft of consumer protection and harm minimization protocols.
The Star Entertainment Group Limited is responsible for The Star Gold Coast, Treasury Brisbane and The Star Sydney properties, and is looking to open its gambling-friendly The Star Brisbane venue within the coming Queen’s Wharf Brisbane development sometime next year.
The permanent loss of its New South Wales and Queensland casino licenses could have proven fatal for the Sydney-listed firm, so Cooke promptly began efforts to better secure its long-term outlook by mitigating the impacts of the two rulings.
Before the end of his first year in charge, Cooke had signed off on a record $62 million fine the New South Wales Independent Casino Commission levied after having found The Star Sydney guilty of allowing Chinese patrons to illicitly place wagers worth millions of dollars via their UnionPay debit cards. This was followed by an analogous financial penalty in Queensland as well as the compulsory naming of Nicholas Weekes from specialist advisory and restructuring firm Wexted Advisors as the entire company’s “independent monitor.”
Cooke was moreover behind the wheel as The Star Entertainment Group agreed to several smaller regulatory fines and voluntarily hired Allen and Overy LLP to oversee a “renewal program” for the company’s future risk, compliance and culture practices. This London-headquartered law firm subsequently recommended a remediation plan with the evolving scheme having been consequently approved and enacted so as to potentially impact some 640 milestones across 15 workstreams.
More recently, Cooke helped to negotiate a revised New South Wales tax deal for The Star Entertainment Group and in the process significantly ease worries thousands of jobs could be lost at the firm’s The Star Sydney venue.
This fresh six-year arrangement will see the 351-room property’s annual gaming revenues under approximately $742 million taxed at 20.25 percent, with anything over subject to a 35 percrent duty, although plans to hit its 1,500 slots with a 60 percent levy were replaced with a gradual rise to 51.6 percent by 2030.
Looking forward, Cooke asserts he is now keen on pushing through a series of “major development projects” for The Star Entertainment Group to present the Australian operator with “transformational opportunities” in the run-up to Brisbane’s planned hosting of the 2032 Olympic Games.
“There are challenges for The Star Entertainment Group Limited that have been well documented,” Cooke says. “These will be my priority and focus; ensuring continuity of the business through a comprehensive renewal program is of paramount importance. This is also an incredibly resilient business with thousands of team members providing the commitment, enthusiasm and inspiration that help deliver outstanding customer service.”