SkyCity Entertainment Group Announces New CEO After Turbulent Year

Published by Auckland Newsroom on

Many Kiwis play online pokies for real money or free on various online casino websites across the net. According to gambling expert Vlad Grindu, “Online pokies in New Zealand are soaring in popularity and you can find thousands of options on the top casino sites. These gaming options cover all sorts of themes and also come with a variety of bonus features,” which can, if you’re lucky enough, lead to large payouts – as long as you play safely and legally, that is.

Yet, it seems those who should know how to play within the rules more than anyone, SkyCity Entertainment, haven’t always upheld their legal obligations, which has led to the appointment of Jason Walbridge, an experienced gambling executive, as its new chief executive. 

Walbridge, known for his two decades of work in the industry, including roles at Aristocrat Leisure and SG Digital, Walbridge is set to assume his new position this July, pending regulatory approvals in New Zealand after a very testing time for the company.

Having most recently served as a strategic advisor at Bridge Gaming and as executive chairman of the National Entertainment Network in the US, Walbridge brings a wealth of global experience to SkyCity. His appointment follows the departure of former CEO Michael Ahearne.

In anticipation of Walbridge’s arrival, Callum Mallet, COO of SkyCity New Zealand, will serve as interim CEO. Walbridge expressed his excitement about leading SkyCity, citing the multitude of opportunities ahead for the company.

SkyCity chair Julian Cook welcomed Walbridge’s addition, emphasising his extensive experience in both land-based and online casino industries. The appointment comes amid other changes in SkyCity’s senior leadership, which includes the resignation of chief financial officer Julie Amey. 

However, amidst these changes, the company is still facing penalty proceedings in New Zealand in regard to the alleged non-compliance with anti-money laundering rules and regulations. The company is currently also grappling with challenges in Australia, including federal proceedings and financial uncertainties.

On 16th February of this year, proceedings were initiated against SkyCity which stemmed from SCML’s alleged non-compliance with the New Zealand Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009.

The draft pleadings outlined five separate causes of action, highlighting significant compliance issues related to the Act. Details of these were not yet available, but SkyCity mentioned they primarily referred to historical matters. Additionally, some incidents had been previously self-reported to the department.

SkyCity also acknowledged that since late 2021, it had undertaken anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing enhancement programmes to address compliance systems and rectify any historical shortcomings. This initiative involved investment in personnel and technology, as well as reviews of processes and systems to pinpoint areas for improvement.

These recent proceedings mark another setback following a turbulent 2023, during which the company encountered a series of setbacks. Of particular concern is the looming threat of a potential license suspension in New Zealand.

In September of that year, the New Zealand authorities took steps to suspend SkyCity’s casino licenses, a move anticipated to last approximately 10 days. This action was directly linked to issues involving SkyCity’s subsidiary, SCML. It remains unclear whether the ongoing civil proceedings are connected to this particular incident.

Despite these challenges, SkyCity remains optimistic about its future, with Walbridge poised to lead the company through its next phases of growth and development.

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