Lending Association

Shock announcement as Star Group’s CEO and CFO are announced to step down

Star Group shares closed up 2.8% in Friday’s weak market – a gain was made to look passing strange later on when news broke after 6pm that there had been a clean out at the top of the embattled casino operator.

The CEO, the Chief Financial Officer and the company’s chief customer officer have or are departing – a shock announcement that will send the shares lower when trading resumes later today (Monday).

Staff were informed of the departures of CEO Robbie Cooke and other top execs on Friday afternoon after the market closed at 4 pm. A statement was published on the ASX website at 6.18pm.

The filing confirmed the departure of the CEO and Star’s chief financial officer Christina Katsibouba, as well as the exit of chief customer officer, George Hughes.

From Friday’s comments, the clean out is linked to the second inquiry into whether it should keep its Sydney licence.

You can’t help think that the departures are a conscious decision to create a trio or more of ’sacrificial lambs’ by the board to appease a disgruntled regulator and inquiry.

“Mr Cooke and the Board consider a change in leadership to be in the best interests of the Company at this time – in particular having formed the view that the continuation of Mr Cooke’s leadership of the Group was not going to be conducive to the NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) determining to find The Star capable of becoming suitable to hold a casino licence in NSW,” the company said in statement to the ASX.
Cooke joined the group on the day its casino licence was stripped in NSW, in October 2022. He was appointed CEO after leading Tyro Payments and promised a cultural overhaul and redirection.

But he has had to deal with complicated tax proposals in NSW, complications with its Queens Wharf joint-venture in Queensland and a longer-than-expected casino licence renewal campaign for its three premises.

Cooke told staff, in a note seen reported by weekend media, he had decided to step down with “considerable reluctance and a heavy heart”.

He added that he believed the head of the NSW Independent Casino Commission, Philip Crawford “had issues” with his decision to retain a number of existing executives on the senior leadership team.

The NSW regulator told The Sydney Morning Herald last month it would commence a second inquiry into The Star as it was still not satisfied there had been sufficient cultural change to warrant a restoration of its state casino licence.

“Noting these individuals were not on The Star’s executive committee at the time the offending conduct identified in the original Bell inquiry occurred, and I am not aware of any basis to suggest they were bad actors. Cooke said in his memo on Friday.

“Secondly, it also seems that the Chief Commissioner did not consider I was moving with sufficient speed with the reforms and changes being implemented at The Star – a view with which I respectfully and fundamentally disagree,” Cooke said in the note, according to Fairfax media.

Katsibouba, company secretary Jennie Yuen, head of customer George Hughes and chief of staff Peter Jenkins all retained senior leadership positions at The Star as the second inquiry was announced. The business also promoted Jessica Mellor to head the Gold Coast casino. Mellor was formerly the chief operating officer of the broader business.

But as of Friday, only Yuen and Mellor remain in their positions. Hughes resigned two weeks ago and Jenkins also stepped down on Friday after a decade at the group.